She said she joined the Navy SEALS to make her family proud. But her world came crashing down after she was raped while on night watch, a young woman told the crowd outside CSUN’s Women’s Center during the Take Back the Night rally on March 8.
“He took my virginity,” she said softly. As a Latina, she said she wanted to preserve her custom and save her virginity for her future husband – to honor her family.
After the rape, she said her brief marriage ended in divorce when her husband left because of her unyielding depression.
At one point, she became suicidal.
“It isn’t just one night, it happens every night,” she said.
Her attempts at complaining to her superiors proved fruitless due to military technicalities.
“I didn’t knock three times or ask for permission to speak,” she said.
A male colleague who came with her to the rally took the opportunity to mention that there are also many men who were sexually assaulted in the U.S. military in Iraq.
“They just won’t talk about it,” he said.
For the fourth year, the Women’s Resource and Research Center, the Women’s Studies Department, the Women’s Studies Student Association and Violent Acts Grounded put together the Take Back the Night rally to create a forum for battered and abused women (and men). The march at the University Student Union moved on to the Women’s Center on the corner of Plummer and Darby, where women and men shared their experiences with the crowd.
“It’s such an amazing event,” said Nicolet Helland, a junior interior design major who was attending the event for the second year.
One woman said she turned to alcohol after a mugging left her unconscious with her teeth knocked out.
“I didn’t understand why it happened to me,” she said. “I blamed myself.”
A person in the crowd screamed out, “It’s not your fault.”
The crowd, which was either sitting on the grass or in the rows of chairs facing the podium, often called out “you’re a survivor” to the people who sometimes cried or held their head in their hands, sharing memories of rape, incest and violence.
Alexis Lawrence, one of the people responsible for the event says this kind of feedback from the crowd can be empowering.
“There is a controversy over calling these women ‘victims’ or ‘survivors,'” Lawrence said. “I say when they face it and take control by speaking about it, they are then survivors.”
Around 300 people showed for the event, Lawrence said. “I can’t understand why it’s not mandated,” she added.
Take Back the Night arose from the namesake international organization that began in Belgium. According to Women Take Back the Night’s Web site, in 1976, women attending an international tribunal on crimes against women marched holding candles to protest violence against women.
CSUN recreation and tourism management grad student and A.S. Director of Finance Adam Haverstock said, “It’s so touching. People share their personal experiences and we can only sympathize.”
One woman spent several minutes behind the stage surrounded by a small crowd who eventually helped her to the podium.
“I’ve been coming for three years,” she said. “The first year I couldn’t get up, the second I had to be dragged on the stage like this year’s. It – practice – doesn’t make it easier.”
She said she was eight or nine when her cousin raped her. He repeatedly molested her until her menstruation cycle began, she said.
“He pinned me down to the floor and had his way,” she recalled.
He denied it ever happed, she said. When she told her mother, “she flipped out” and said her daughter was lying.
“She wouldn’t stop yelling until I said it didn’t happen,” she said.
Another woman said her father raped her at the age of eight and her mother did not believe her when she asked her mother for help.
Now 25, she said, “I don’t understand how people that are supposed to love you can hurt you.”
Another woman said her uncle abused her since a young age. She never told her parents until she noticed he was becoming too friendly with her three-year-old sister.
“My sister is now 17 and comes to Take Back the Night with me,” she said.
Most of the people who spoke said sharing helped them deal with their pasts.
“It doesn’t just affect one person,” the next speaker said. When it happens to the people you love, “it happens to you too,” she said, urging people to encourage their loved one’s to talk about it.
Another woman who had been told to keep quite about her sexual assault said, “It is a big deal.” “We can change them, make them understand,” she said, saying how important this event was to her. “It shouldn’t be one night a week.”
The speakers often had to talk over, car hunks and music, babies crying and even a car alarm that went on for what seemed like five minutes.
None of which caused any hesitation for the speakers.
One of the men who attended said he spoke tonight to show solidarity with a junior high friend who was molested by her father. He said he couldn’t understand how no one could help her.
“I don’t understand how some one could not understand “no,”” He said to the crowd.
One woman told the crowd she was raped “not once”, “not twice,” but repeatedly since she was a child. “My first memory is of being molested,” she said. “I was suicidal by 10.”
As speakers came off the stage most were embraced by friends and family, who were often in tears.
The Navy Seal, who was much calmer by the end of her story, told her friends who accompanied her, she has decided to quite school. “Most people don’t realize the importance of this,” she said.
“I joined the Navy for school.”
Correction It was reported that one rape survivor said she was a Navy SEAL at the time of the assault. While the reporter maintains that this information was given, there are no female Navy SEALs, nor have there ever been.