Quietly walking shadowed back roads are women with voices that are often silenced. Women everywhere are faced with walking dimly lit streets by themselves every night, along with the anxiety that comes with it. Sexual assault, domestic violence and rape are looming threats and haunting memories that make a walk down the street terrifying for some.
The victims of these “crimes of silence” rarely report them, but on Wednesday night a group of Springfield College students spoke out in an emotional campus event that gave the silenced a voice.
Students Against Violence Everywhere (S.A.V.E) is an organization at Springfield College that holds events on campus advocating against all forms of violence. The club’s often powerfully outspoken message is delivered through events such as The Vagina Monologues and its trademark fall semester event, Take Back The Night. Take Back The Night is an international campaign that exposes violence towards women through public rallies that date back to 1975.
Speakers at Take Back The Night rallies take a stand against sexual violence by addressing a silent group with heart-wrenching stories, poems and song lyrics under the same moonlight that violence typically occurs.
S.A.V.E President and Springfield College junior Ashley Ryan led the event at Springfield College. Ryan says the mission of the campaign tends to be an eye-opener for students. “Take Back The Night raises awareness that things like this actually happen right where we are,” said Ryan.
The difficulty of putting an end to sexual violence lies in the awareness, Ryan said. Take Back The Night brings women together to speak about their experiences, something that the S.A.V.E president feels is the highest hurdle. “Violence is a big problem. The biggest problem is that it’s not talked about enough,” said Ryan. “Everybody knows that it happens, but no one is actually willing to talk about it.”
Ryan’s club has held Take Back The Night walks in the past and the popularity seems to be growing. This year was no exception.
Over 50 students gathered in front of Alumni Hall at 8 p.m. Far surpassing the outing’s attendance in years previous, the group of men and women huddled in the cold to raise awareness about sexual violence. Beginning at Alumni Hall, the students walked across campus, stopping at every residence hall to listen to speakers tell their stories.
Take Back The Night 2011 began with Springfield College senior Chelsey Dumond nervously telling her story, a story that Dumond says few people have ever heard. “I thought about it for a while when they asked me to speak and I asked myself if I really wanted to do it because I was scared to talk about it,” said Dumond.
As she began to talk, Dumond’s visible breath fell over the crowd in the cold air and her words left many speechless. Listeners shed tears with Dumond as she recounted her own experience with sexual violence, and Dumond says the chance to speak meant everything.
“I’m really glad I did it. It was so great just to see that many people who legitimately cared and wanted to be there and support the cause,” said Dumond. “It made it that much easier for me to speak, as hard as it was.”
Dumond stood in front of Alumni next to Becca Jacobson, who addressed the crowd shortly after. Jacobson has spoken at Take Back The Night before and her story moved her audience once again this year. Jacobson spoke about her close friend Carol, who was shot and killed by a friend’s abusive ex-boyfriend, ending her speech with a challenge to the silent crowd.
“I challenge all of you to live like Carol did,” said Jacobson. “Smile at strangers, don’t be afraid to fall in love, make a fool of yourself, maybe even try something new and always challenge yourself to remember that for every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness.”
Jacobson said Take Back The Night is about the women who don’t get a chance to talk. “It’s my opportunity to be a voice for someone who doesn’t have one,” said Jacobson.
Following the two women were seventeen other speakers who spoke in front of the entrances of every other residence hall on campus. As the speakers told their stories, read uplifting poetry and quoted song lyrics below street lights, passing students could not help but get caught up in the rally.
In front of Gulick Hall, Associate Director of the Springfield College Counseling Center Gary Enright spoke about the origins of S.A.V.E. A woman who was sexually assaulted in Gulick Hall found the strength to speak about her experience and went to the Counseling Center. The incident led to the formation of S.A.V.E and Take Back The Night. Enright says he commends all of the women who spoke on Wednesday.
“To anyone like the student I knew, I admire your courage,” said Enright. “And for those afraid to speak up, there is help all around you.”
Take Back The Night came to an end in front of Abbey Hall as students embraced one another in recognition of the feat they had accomplished in speaking.
“I feel like there is never a good opportunity to share your story because people don’t like to talk about these types of things,” said Ryan. “This event gives women that opportunity to share.”
Students like Jacobson and Dumond found the opportunity to tell their story on Wednesday, but the reaches of S.A.V.E and Take Back The Night only go so far. Participants in the rally only hope that its awareness can make other women feel like they aren’t alone on their walks home.
Sean Seifert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org