UWRF students speak out against sexual violence
April 16, 2010
UW-River Falls students, faculty and staff along with River Falls community members showed their support for sexual violence awareness at the 15th annual UWRF Take Back the Night (TBtN) held Wednesday, April 7, in the Falcon’s Nest.
According to takebackthenight. org, the first mention of TBtN occurred at The International Tribunal on Crimes against Women on March 4-8, 1976 in Brussels, Belgium. Two thousand women representing 40 countries attended the candlelight procession through the streets of Brussels. In Rome, Reclaim the Night arose in 1976, a year in which 16,000 rapes were reported, fueling the event. West Germany followed suit and held their first Reclaim the Night on April 30, 1977. Next, Leeds, England held a Reclaim the Night event in November, 1977. Australia and India also held Reclaim the Night events in 1978.
In 1976, New York held the first North American march for women, but it wasn’t until 1977 that the slogan “Take Back the Night” was introduced by Anne Pride as the title of a memorial she read at an antiviolence rally in Pittsburgh, Pa., according to the Web site. Over the last 30 years in the United States, Take Back the Night has returned its focus to eliminating sexual violence in all forms, and thousands of colleges, universities, women’s centers and rape crisis centers have sponsored events all over the country.
This year, TBtN at UWRF held the first march down Main Street since 2007. The event ran in conjunction with the Clothesline Project and included live music, poetry and other readings, a resource fair, speakers and a free fajita bar. According to Nikki Shonoiki, third-year member of the planning committee and emcee for TBtN at UWRF, this year’s event was held differently than previous years. Shonoiki said there was a coalition working together for TBtN involving many different departments, and that it was bigger than ever before.
“I really feel like people are going to take a lot from this event,” Shonoiki said. “What’s cool is that we’ll be able to show the community, very loudly, that we’re passionate about the issue of sexual violence.”
Planning for the event began in February, according to Shonoiki, and a coalition was created outside of Rise Up for Women’s Rights. This year, TBtN worked with the Greek community, specifically the Sorority Pan Hellenic Council, as well as the Journey House, College Democrats, the Pierce County Democratic Party and the Women’s Studies Department. The focus this year was community building, resource acknowledgement, inclusiveness and victim empowerment. The planning committee wanted to bring back the march to this year’s event since that’s how TBtN originated.
“We really wanted to not only link students to the resources and link the community to the campus, but to include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and asexual (LGBTQA) communities because they’re always kept out of sexual violence issues,” Shonoiki said.
Erin McNiff from the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) spoke at the event about the services offered by SART, which helps victims by bringing healing and safety throughout the St. Croix Valley. SART serves victims, both male and female, over the age of 13 by offering free medical help and guidance within five days of a sexual assault incident. Police Investigator Chuck Golden from the River Falls Police Department also spoke about his role as an investigator specializing in crimes of sexual assault. Golden encouraged everyone to speak out to community leaders and legislators when a void in statues is seen so that everyone can live in peace.
River Falls Mayor Don Richards congratulated everyone in attendance.
“You’re sending a strong message as you take a stand,” Richards said.
Richards said that as a public official he, too, must take a stand opposing sexual violence, and as a male, it’s even more important to take a stand. He said it is necessary for more men to join the ranks of those courageous women to rebel against the advice to stay in at night to avoid getting hurt.
Another guest speaker was Meredith Martyr, an intern from the Aurora Center at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who spoke about sexual violence in the LGBTQA community. The Aurora Center’s mission is “to recognize and reduce sexual assault, relationship violence, and stalking on campus and to create an atmosphere where all members of the community can learn, work, and live to their full potential,” according to their Web site. The Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education (TAC) at the U of M was founded in 1989, providing free and confidential crisis intervention to victims of sexual assault, relationship violence, stalking and harassment.
TAC also provides services for “concerned persons,” that is, people who are concerned about a friend or loved one who has experienced these types of crimes. TAC serves approximately 300 people per year, according to the Web site, through its advocacy services. The center also provides education and training to U of M students, faculty and staff, as well as the Twin-Cities community.
Martyr spoke about the indifference of sexual violence between the straight and gay communities. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a gay man, straight woman or trans individual,” Martyr said. “We are all affected by these heinous crimes.”
Katie Johnson represented the Justice Center at TBtN. The Justice Center looks at who has been harmed or impacted by sexual crimes and what can be done to make things right. Johnson said they focus on victims’ point of view and how to help them. She said she hoped that TBtN would raise general awareness about sexual violence on the UWRF campus.
Tori Ruckle, the secretary of Rise Up for Women’s Rights, said the group was created last year since there was no women’s rights advocacy on campus. They are a prochoice organization that works for women’s sexual health rights and are partnered with Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin and Choice USA.
“I hope the effect of tonight is to raise awareness,” Ruckle said. “I feel like it’s an issue a lot of people don’t think of until it happens to them, so our goal is to raise awareness so that it doesn’t happen to women.”
Ruckle said the event has special meaning to her, personally, as well.
“Even the littlest things are sexual assault, like being called a bitch or being grabbed at,” she said. “It happens to women, and it’s unfortunate.”
The Noble Scoundrels is a group that was created earlier this year with the plan to get more men involved in supporting women. Corey Phelps, the health education coordinator at UWRF, said the group wanted to focus on male students who were highly visible, so they started with athletes and moved on to male RA’s. Last week, the group was opened up to anyone and everyone who wanted to sign up to pledge “to boldly uphold the duty of the Noble Scoundrels to honor and protect all women by not participating in physical or sexual violence against them.” Anyone who wants to pledge (and receive a free shirt) can stop by the Noble Scoundrels’ office located in 211 Hagestad.
Mark Huttemier, a counselor on campus, said other schools have similar groups and that UWRF needed a group like the Noble Scoundrels.
“We really want to stick around,” Huttemier said. “And there’s no reason for us not to.”