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Notre Dame GRC organizes event for sexual assault awareness

| Thursday, April 20, 2017

Participants in last year's Take Back the Night event march around campus to raise awareness for issues of sexual assault before ending the night with a prayer vigil at the Grotto.Wei Cao | The Observer
Participants in last year’s Take Back the Night event march around Notre Dame’s campus to raise awareness for issues of sexual assault before ending the night with a prayer vigil at the Grotto.

The Notre Dame community will come together Thursday evening to attempt to start a dialogue on sexual assault and hear stories from survivors.

“Take Back the Night” (TBTN) is an annual event that has been a collaborative effort between Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s for over a decade. This year, Holy Cross College will participate and the event will be sponsored by the Gender Relations Center (GRC) at Notre Dame and the Belles Against Violence Office at Saint Mary’s College (BAVO).

The event will take place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and start at Lake Marian at Saint Mary’s. The march will continue to Notre Dame for the sexual assault survivor speak out, ending at the Grotto with prayers and meditation for sexual assault survivors.

“Having a safe and supportive environment in which to share one’s journey of healing is really important, both for individuals and for the community,” Regina Gesicki, assistant director for educational initiatives for the GRC, said.

Gesicki said the event signals all three college campuses’ commitment to ending violence of all kinds and to strengthen hope for a future where all play a part in prevention.

“We raise our voices, first as individuals so deeply impacted, [and] then in action while marching through campus, and finally, in song and prayer as a community of faith,” she said.

Gesicki, the Notre Dame staff representative on the planning committee for Take Back the Night, said the event aligns with the GRC’s mission to create a healthy campus culture and create a community that honors the human dignity of each person.

“Interpersonal violence results from someone choosing in a most egregious way to devalue another,” she said. “By supporting survivors, and encouraging intervention in instances of harm, we can begin to recover the dignity and value that each one of us intrinsically possesses.”

Christine Caron Gebhardt, director of the GRC, said offering a safe space for sexual assault survivors to speak out forces others to face the reality of the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses.

“My hope that is when folks hear the stories of their peers they will be compelled to do something about it — not everything, but something to prevent this from happening in the future,” she said. “So as a result, TBTN reinforces the messages of GreeNDot by clearly stating that violence is not ok at Notre Dame and by being part of TBTN you are playing a part to change our culture at Notre Dame.”

Survivors of sexual assault may not report for a multitude of reasons such as not wanting to recount the incident or fearing social retaliation Gesicki said.

“Take Back the Night provides multiple modalities for those impacted to share their stories, whether through the Speak Out, through chants during the March or through prayer and song at the vigil,” she said. “Being heard by those who support is an important step in healing.”

Gebhardt said the silence around sexual assault is created by the disbelief that it happens at Notre Dame campus, despite the data revealed, victim-blaming and the unwillingness to help someone because of not wanting to get involved.

“All of these factors create a culture where survivors and victims feel isolated,” she said. “There is no one thing everyone has to do. We just need everyone to do something. If that happens, then Our Lady’s University is a place where violence toward others are prevented and the dignity of all is protected. Ultimately, we live out our mission to be our brother and sister’s keepers.”

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About Selena Ponio

Selena Ponio is from Dallas, Texas and is currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. She is the Associate News Editor for The Observer. Selena lives in Breen-Phillips hall and is majoring in International Economics with a concentration in Spanish and is minoring in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy.

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