About 200 students and community members gathered to protest violence against women and allow survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to voice their experiences among supporters at the annual “Take Back the Night” rally that took place on March 10.
Alexis Lawrence, senior women’s studies major and president of the group Violent Acts Grounded, brought the rally to CSUN last year for the first time. It began in Europe as a protest against the fear women encountered walking the streets at night.
The rally has existed in the United States since the first one in San Francisco in 1978.
“The purpose of Take Back the Night is to bring women, children and men together to say that violence against women is very wrong,” said Shelby Stephan, senior women’s studies major and director of the Women’s Resource and Research Center, which was one of the sponsors of the event.
Stephan hoped the rally would raise awareness about violence against women that occurs every day, even on campus.
“In the Campus Crime Report for last year, all the crimes had gone down, except rape, which had gone up,” Stephan said. “People need to know that this is going on and what we can do to stop it, especially men, because men usually don’t fight for women’s rights, and they need to.”
The rally began at 5:30 p.m. on the lawn in front of the University Park Apartments with music and a line-up of speakers. Lawrence introduced the event and its history, and Rachel Levitt, senior communication studies major, explained the Clothesline Project.
T-shirts with messages on them were hung up on clotheslines around the lawn, and on the lawn at the Women’s Center, where the march ended. The project “is a vehicle for women affected by violence to express their emotions by decorating a shirt,” which is then hung to “be viewed by others as testimony to the problem of violence against women,” according to the organization’s website.
Other speakers included a representative for Haven Hills, which offers shelter, counseling and other services to victims of domestic violence, women’s studies professor Dianne Bartlow, Yolanda Noack from the Counseling Center, and Monica Srey, senior women’s studies major and president of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Alliance at CSUN.
Srey brought a woman onstage and made-out with her to illustrate how she felt safe enough at this rally to be herself, and to ask the crowd how they would feel if they could not express their feelings to their loved ones in public for fear of being a victim of violence and homophobia.
Jon Luskin, president of the Gamma Roe pledge class of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, spoke next.
“We’re here in support of the CSUN Women’s Center and of women everywhere, and we have a message,” Luskin said. “Violence against women is entirely fucked up. Abuse of any kind, be it physical, emotional or neglect is simply wrong. This should be blatantly self-evident. Perhaps one day we won’t need a rally of this kind, but until then, Gamma Roe is here to help our sisters take back the night.”
Malena Hinze spoke on behalf of the Valley Trauma Center that serves the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys.
“We have the right to walk the street and campus in safety and security, we have the right to go out on a date and have a drink without the fear of being raped, and we have the right to say no,” Hinze said.
She said the center offers support, advocacy, counseling and education concerning issues of sexual assault. She supported the statistics given by speakers earlier in the night stating that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 5 men will be sexually assaulted by the time they are 18 years old, and added that 77 percent of all rapes are by acquaintances.
Peggie Reyna, a member of the Los Angeles Commission on Assault Against Women, spoke and gave a demonstration on techniques for self-defense for to women.
“I fight like a girl,” Reyna said. “I punch like a girl, I kick like a girl, and when I’m done, you crawl. When women learn self defense, it’s not about the muscles that you have, but the techniques that you use.”
She brought a volunteer on stage to demonstrate some self-defense moves. Reyna overpowered the taller man with ease.
“We want you to know that you have the power to take back the night,” Reyna said.
Twenty-one-year-old actor and activist Lynsey Bartilson spoke last and concluded with facts about the sexual slave trade that exists worldwide.
Over a hundred candles were then handed out to the audience, and Bartilson lit the first one.
“We’re lighting these candles for those who have not survived, and to stop violence against women everywhere,” Bartilson said.
Lasondra Wilson, freshman music therapy major, closed with singing “Lean on Me.” The group, consisting of men, women and children, along with four campus security officers and several police, then marched shouting protest chants through the CSUN campus to the Women’s Center.
In the crowd were two junior communication studies majors, Rickie Jones and Felipe Tetelboin.
“We’re here because we hate men who rape women,” Jones said.
“We came down to support women,” Tetelboin said. “It’s going to take having events like this more than once a year to promote change.”
“This is empowering for women because it’s scary to walk alone,” said Angela Rubalcava, senior women’s studies and psychology major and volunteer at the Women’s Center. “Women together, we have the power to do anything.”
“This is wonderful, it’s better than I expected,” said Davita Harris, junior sociology major and volunteer for the event.
Dave Vasquez, community member and minister for the same-sex commitment ceremonies at CSUN last fall, marched with his mother, Vicki Kinzer.
“I was raised by a single mother,” Vasquez said. “She’s my hero.”
Part of the march took place in complete silence.
The march concluded on the lawn of the Women’s Center where snacks were provided and a stage was set up for the open mic portion of the event.
Lawrence spoke first.
“I’m 23 years old, I was raped when I was 18 years old,” Lawrence said. “It was horrible. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” She then read a poem she wrote describing the events surrounding the rape.
Several people took turns on stage telling stories of how they or their loved ones had been victims of rape or domestic violence, many of them telling the story in public for the first time.
“I was raped by my boyfriend at 19,” said Karri Stevens-Vazquez, senior women’s studies major. “A lot of people don’t believe you can be raped by your boyfriend, but you can and it’s terrible.”
“I’m here for my mother and brother,” said Jacob Clayton, senior cinema television and arts major and women’s studies minor. “When I was 6 years old my mother was raped in front of me. I am a survivor and I’m glad we have things like this so things like that can stop.”
Breny Mendoza, assistant professor in the women’s studies department and faculty director of the Women’s Center, said the center is a student-run facility and the rally was completely student-organized.
“I am really taken aback,” Mendoza said. “I find the attendance incredible as well as all the stories I’m hearing. It shows you the power students have and women have. We have over 60 percent women at CSUN, so we probably have 16,000 stories like these.”
“This is really a dream come true for me,” Lawrence said. “You did take back the night. Dammit, it’s ours!”
She was happy with the turn out and the amount of people who volunteered testimonials, and hoped it helped them in their healing process.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Lawrence said. “I’m proud and thankful, I couldn’t ask for anything better next year. The Women’s Center means the world to me. I really owe my life to it and the women who work here.”