In 1975, Susan Alexander Speeth, a young microbiologist from Philadelphia, was stabbed to death walking home, no more than a block from her house. The first Take Back the Night rally was organized as a response to this, emerging from women’s desire to make the streets a safe place at night. Today, the movement takes place all over the world as a protest to end all forms of sexual violence and create safe communities and respectful relationships.
Crimes of this nature continue to rise every year — it is estimated that every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the US. Sexual assault is particularly prevalent on college campuses. A report from the US Department of Justice on “The Sexual Victimization of College Women” (2000) found that one in four college women experience sexual assault or attempted rape during their college years. Last month, UCPD reported a 19% increase in reported instances of forcible sex offenses, rising from 23 in 2011 to 39 in 2012.
Berkeley Take Back the Night took place last Thursday on Sproul Plaza, aiming to shatter the silence surrounding sexual violence through the arts. The student-run event opened with BareTroupe’s performance of a number of songs from Spring Awakening, a musical that deals with issues of rape, homosexuality, child abuse and suicide. Following this, students from the Gender Equity Resource Center described the history of the movement, and read out sexual violence statistics throughout the event.
Jeffrey Edleson, the Dean of Social Welfare, gave a speech on “the war on women,” discussing the activism surrounding the rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi that he witnessed over his winter break in India. He concluded by declaring that the struggle for equality and protest against sexual violence is a task for every day, not just for one night.
A couple of Bay Area poets also took part in the event. Latonia M. Dixon read poems about her experiences of sexual harassment and rape in the military, and Aqueila M. Lewis, also known as “Sexy Love”, performed interactive poetry that reflected both her childhood and adult experiences of rape and sexual abuse.
Students from CalSlam read extremely powerful poems about street harassment, sexual abuse, and one student’s experience of racially charged sexual harassment as an Asian/American student.
Fourth year student Diamond Raymond gave a fearless, passionate speech in which she called students to stand up against sexual violence: “We are not asking for safety, we are demanding it.” The event concluded with an Open Mic, during which an incredibly brave student told the devastatingly moving, previously untold story of her experience of rape in college and the lack of support she received from the police.
The event also featured an impressive collection of student artwork. Nikita Aitken’s display of underwear hanging on a line, in which every third set of underwear was stained with blood, was particularly striking, serving as a reference to the fact that one in three women around the world will be raped, beaten or otherwise abused in her lifetime.