Many came in to observe and participate in the opening ceremony of the Take Back the Night rally on Thursday.
Violent Acts Grounded (VAG), V-DAY, the Women’s Studies Department and the Women’s Center hosted the fourth annual Take Back the Night rally and march, with the opening ceremony at CSUN’s plaza del sol.
The opening ceremony consisted of speakers and participants expressed their message that sexual violence and abuse must be stopped in all its forms.
“We are here to talk about issues with abuse toward women and children, but also men too,” said Ayu Nishikawa, Asst. Director of the Women’s Center here on campus. “Men get raped and abused too, so we want to talk about how we can prevent sexual violence against people in general.”
Those that took the stage to address the crowd set the tone for the evening’s event, conveying that sexual violence is a problem that will not go away without the will to unite and speak out. Although not the first person to speak, one of the more notable addresses during the ceremony was third-year Women’s studies major Jessica Burnett, who gave an account of her experience with sexual violence.
Burnett did not play the victim in front of the crowd, but showed that what had happened to her would not become her downfall. “I refused to let someone destroy me,” she said. Burnett told the crowd that women have the right to fight against sexual assault and in the struggle, “you can fight, you can survive, we can be our sisters keeper.”
“I felt a little vulnerable, but I became comfortable because these people stand for the exact same thing I stand for,” said Burnett when asked how she felt about sharing her experience with others. “There are people who don’t say anything about it, who don’t speak up about it, or who think it is their fault that it happened. I felt that going up there and feeling a little vulnerable, I can let someone else know that ‘hey, you are not alone.'”
Alexis Lawrence, alumna volunteer for the Women’s Center and founder of VAG, also shared her account of sexual assault. Talking about it at her first Take Back the Night rally helped her persevere through the negative feelings surrounding her experience.
Lawrence recalls that, amidst encouraging shouts from the crowd at her first rally, “It was the first time ever, when I felt that when I shared my story, I wasn’t being judged?I could finally learn to heal and move on with my life.” Lawrence covered all aspects of the event in her speech, telling the crowd what she felt were the main aspects of the event.
“The rally helps people on four different levels. Education, resources, a solidarity and unity dynamic, as well as the healing factor.” Lawrence also urged more people to come up and share their experiences with sexual assault and violence for both the benefit of the crowd and the speaker.
“A lot of the time, this is the first time when women go up (on stage) and actually say the words ‘I was raped,’ ‘I was assaulted,’ or ‘I was sexually molested as a child.’ It is a really, really scary thing?but I am here to tell you it can be done,” Lawrence said. “The transformation you feel from victim to survivor is phenomenal.” Veronica Chavira, a senior CTVA major and member of V-DAY, shared a poem with the audience that an anonymous person submitted in a previous rally. The poem was titled “That one night” and was about the night an acquaintance had raped the author and ruined her life.
“I felt really compelled to share that because it focuses on that one night where that person had her life taken from her and?this event ‘gives your life back’ for a lot of people,” said Chavira.
Among those that took the stage was the unexpected, but well-received, coordinator for the torture prevention center in Honduras, Alba Mejea. She happened to be in attendance while waiting for a Central American United Students Association event later in the evening.
Mejea said that sexual violence against women is not something that can be compartmentalized to college campuses, but a problem that needs to be addressed on a global scale. Mejea, who has been a vocal advocate and activist for human rights for 27 years in Honduras and abroad, spoke about the rape, murder and mutilation of women that take place everywhere, from her home country to the United States. She spoke on behalf of the people living abroad that have faced sexual assault and violence, saying, “Receive the greetings of the forgotten neighborhoods I represent here today.”
Mejea urged the audience to “come together as sisters” and fight what she calls “feminicide”-the violence and murder perpetuated toward women today.
Members of the organizations sharing the same message or involved in sponsoring the Taking Back the Night rally came up to spread awareness about the resources that are available for victims of sexual abuse and violence.
Michel Stayer, a CSUN student and volunteer at the Valley Trauma Center, on stage and told the crowd about the services provided at the facility. The center provides a range of services and resources to help those who have experienced sexual abuse or violence. Services include a 24-hour crisis hot line, abuse counseling and accompaniment for people in need of moral support when visiting a hospital or courthouse.
“It’s about awareness,” Stayer said. “(Sexual abuse and violence) is a problem that isn’t going away and ignoring it isn’t going to help. Talking about it and promoting education about it will help teach people to treat others with respect.”
Members of Project D.A.T.E., a date-and-acquaintance rape prevention program on campus, came and spoke about students getting involved to eliminate the occurrence of rape at CSUN.
Michelle Kim, a third-year psychology major and volunteer at Project D.A.T.E., stood at the table for the organization, educating students on how rape is not a problem that is out of sight or out of mind, but a problem that needs to be addressed directly.
“Sexual violence is inflicted on men, women and children of all walks of life, of all ethnicities. The more education that is out there and the more people are aware, the better we can prevent it,” Kim said.
Tables of various organizations circled the Plaza Del Sol. The event was co-sponsored by many of these organizations, including the Associated Student government and the University Programs Council. Ariel Zoled, a senior in marketing, was among the males who were in attendance at the event. “I came to observe, but I am just analyzing everything I heard and just taking it all in,” said Zoled. “But all in all, this rally here, it’s a good thing.”
Business administration major David Chafin was also there. Chafin felt the event brought sexual violence more to the forefront in his mind.
“It is not something you think about every day and it is actually a really positive thing that this event is bringing to people’s attention,” Chafin said.
One of the driving factors of attendance to the rally was Rachel Murphy, graduate student and officer of VAG, who promoted the event and worked to obtain the permits for the rally to take place.
Lawrence also credited Women’s Studies professor Ruth Kalin for her continuous efforts to support these events by being one of the only professors who requires her students to attend the rally each year.
Before there was a Take Back the Night rally at CSUN, Lawrence was encouraged by Women’s Studies Professor and Department Chair Mayerea Tohidi five years ago to pursue establishing an organization to host the rally here on campus, which lead to the formation of VAG.
After the rally became bigger each year, the objective has become to let students know about the issues with sexual violence as well as a way to bring people together to combat the problem.
“We are trying to be very comprehensive about our approach on violence to raise people’s consciousness to these issues,” said Tohidi. “It is an event t
o educate people?Usually students find it not only an educational or learning experience, but it also brings students together to network, socialize and hopefully get involved.”
As the opening ceremony came to a close, countless flames flickered, illuminating the walls of buildings as students and staff members walked with their lit candles in commemoration of both survivors and fatal victims of sexual violence.
Off in the distance, as the bunches of lights clustered together, chants against sexual assault and violence rang out as they made their way to the Women’s Center to continue the Take Back the Night rally.