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April 23, 2010
Vol. 51 No. 21

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Event raises sexual violence awareness

WomenSpeak held its annual Take Back the Night program to raise awareness about sexual assault and domestic violence on Friday, April 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Degenstein Campus Center meeting rooms.

"This event is about women and men standing up and saying 'no' to sexual assault. We're literally taking back the nights and not having to be afraid to walk down a dark alley," junior and next year's co-project manager of WomenSpeak Christiana Paradis said.

Paradis said that one in four college women will be sexually assaulted, and Take Back the Night provides a community of support for both victims and non-victims who have been affected by abuse.

The program opened with faculty and staff presentations, which included a description of the effects of rape on society and culture by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Lissa Skitolsky, a presentation on resources for sexual assault victims by Interim Administrative Director of the Health Center Margie Briskey and advice on how to be a supportive friend to victims of sexual violence by Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing Randy Robertson.

In her presentation, Skitolsky said, "Sexual violence is woven into the fabric of our society, but we can begin to rip it apart through our testimony and through showing our support for those who testify."

Following faculty presentations, the event featured a speak-out portion, in which students were encouraged to tell their experiences to an audience bound by a confidentiality agreement.

Junior Tearsa Brown said that the speak-out portion of Take Back the Night gives victims a chance to break silence and have a safe space to share their story.

"It is also important for non-victims, so they can become aware of the issue of sexual violence and be there as a support system," Brown said.

Andy Dunlap, assistant director for clinical services and moderator of the speak-out, described Take Back the Night as a "grassroots impromptu group that can be very empowering to those targeted by sexual violence."

He added: "Sexual assault is the most underreported crime. Most people feel like they need to keep it a secret. Take Back the Night is a chance to tell the truth. It can be very freeing and is the first step to healing for sexual assault victims."

Robertson said that the speak-out is a forum for victims of sexual violence that allows them to "air their stories and to support one another."

"The speak-out is an opportunity for survivors of sexual violence to tell their story." Dunlap said. "My role is to make sure people understand that the information is private outside of the speak-out."

A candlelight vigil was held after the speak-out in remembrance of people who lost their lives to sexual violence. Following the vigil, attendees marched through campus, starting at the West Village Complex, past the freshmen residence halls, down University Avenue and ending at the Women's Studies House for a reception.

Take Back the Night became an international tradition in 1976 when a group gathered in Belgium to protest crimes against women.

According to, the slogan "take back the night" was adopted during a march in Pittsburgh in 1977. Since then, it has become one of the largest rallies in Pennsylvania and has been held at Susquehanna since the early 1990s.

Although the event is sponsored by WomenSpeak, Paradis said that men aren't excluded from Take Back the Night or from WomenSpeak.

She said: "It's important for men to be a part of WomenSpeak, either as a victim or standing beside a woman and defending her rights. If you isolate men and say it [sexual assault] doesn't happen to them, you're furthering sexism."

"We live in a world where men and women still aren't equal. WomenSpeak is the voice for men and women who want equality," junior Claire Reilly said.

"At SU, we focus on women's issues, especially issues on campus. It's about coming together as a campus," Paradis said.

This year WomenSpeak has hosted several events both on- and off campus.

"The Vagina Monologues," a play about female empowerment, was held in March and all proceeds were donated to Operation Freefall, a charity that provides funds to support sexual assault and domestic abuse victims. Other campus events included Eve Ensler's play "The Good Body," a health fair, the Operation Freefall sky-diving fundraiser and Love Your Body Day.

WomenSpeak also had a table at the Market Street festival and sold T-shirts, the proceeds of which were donated to the family of Robin Miller, a Sunberry woman who was killed by her husband in a murder-suicide in March. The group also works with the Hemlock Girl Scout Council and raises money for research for the Susan G. Komen breast cancer organization.

"Some of the most important people in my life have been in WomenSpeak. It's an organization with a long legacy. We're the latest manifestation of that, and we have a lot to live up to," Reilly said.

WomenSpeak meets at the Women's Studies House every Wednesday at 9:45 p.m.


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