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Take back the night

Katie Rose | Monday, April 23, 2012

This column concerns an unfortunate situation I witnessed last Thursday night. I am an avid supporter of the annual ND/SMC-sponsored “Take Back the Night” event. “Take Back the Night” events are held nationwide, with three separate marches happening in South Bend alone. The organization gives its reasoning for why these marches are organized:

A woman walks alone down a dark, deserted street. With every shadow she sees, and every sound she hears, her pounding heart flutters and skips a beat. She hurries her pace as she sees her destination become closer. She is almost there. She reaches the front door, goes inside, collects herself, and moves on, forgetting, at least for tonight, the gripping fear that momentarily enveloped her life. This scene could have occurred anywhere last night, last year, or even 100 years ago. Historically, women have faced the anxiety of walking alone at night and that is why “Take Back the Night” began.

Many Notre Dame students, especially women, have this same feeling as they walk home to their dorms at night – the familiar feeling of a pounding heart. Whether we like it or not, sexual assaults do happen on our campus, and the annual “Take Back the Night” event is one opportunity for members of this University community to publicly speak out against sexual assault and violence.

Unfortunately, as some 50 students passionate about ending sexual assaults marched around campus last Thursday, we were met with mockery, jokes, and laughter from about five young men on South Quad.

As we walked by and my face visibly filled with fury, my friend looked over at me and said, “Just ignore it, Katie, they’re just drunk.” Not surprisingly, this just made my reaction stronger. One of the biggest messages of “Take Back the Night” and all sexual assault prevention education is that being drunk is not an excuse. It is not an excuse for what you have said to another person, the way you acted towards another person or the crimes committed against another person.

Notre Dame has been in the news too frequently over the past two years in regards to our dealings with sexual assaults. Major publications have criticized our school across the country. My mom sent me an article from Houston about one such incident before I had even heard about it. This school has worked very hard over the years and especially over the past few months to turn our image around, to show we are actively trying to change the culture on campus to one intolerant of sexual assaults. We have made great progress internally regarding policies and training, but it is our responsibility as students to show the outside world we recognize sexual assault as a major problem on college campuses and we support the changes being made. The five young men on South Quad have shown me the student body is apparently not as united as I had hoped in eliminating sexual violence on this campus.

It baffles me this is even a possibility – why would you feel compelled to jeer at people standing out against a gross social problem? There is only one side to this issue. It was inappropriate to make any kind of negative comments towards those fighting for change. Insulting the march is a direct affront to victims of sexual assault. These survivors have often already endured months of victim-blaming and disbelief of their stories – is it necessary to invalidate their experience further?

I am going to take the most forgiving approach that I can on this situation: I will blame the comments, jokes and mockery on a lack of understanding. Perhaps you young men have never known a victim of sexual assault, never imagined your sister in that kind of situation or perhaps you have just never known what it feels like to be filled with fear on your walk home.

Whatever your reasoning, I’d like to give you an opportunity to understand exactly what you were making fun of last Thursday night. This is a formal invitation for those five men, and anyone else on this campus that would like, to join me at the city-wide “Take Back the Night” march this Thursday. The event will take place at the South Bend Courthouse steps at 7 p.m. Following the march there will be a Speak-Out event where survivors and allies can share their stories in a confidential, safe space. If you would like a ride to the event, please email me at [email protected]. I would be honored to have you join me.

Katie Rose is the student body vice president at the University of Notre Dame. She is a junior and a resident of

Pasquerilla East Hall. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.