Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Take Back the Night

Tonight on campus, we are hosting our "Take Back the Night" event, as April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. "Take Back the Night" is a campaign encouraging people to speak out against sexual assault and domestic violence and takes place on campuses all over the country. It involves the Clothesline project (where people can make T-shirts detailing their experiences), a march around campus with chanting, and testimonies from survivors. It's intense. Especially as many of us have friends, family and others who've been through this, or maybe we've been through things ourselves but have never told anyone.

What I love most about the campaign is that it's about breaking the silence. Even today, there's a stigma against being assaulted, whether you're a woman or a man. People don't believe you, they think it was your fault, that you are somewhat asking for it by wearing that miniskirt or by drinking, that you're stupid to trust people or walk home late at night, that maybe you can't be trusted to choose good relationships, and that the people you love would never hurt you. People are afraid of going to the police, for fear or retaliation or humiliation in the courts (those lawyers will rip your character to shreds in order to prove their client innocent). If it's happening in your family, you could be afraid of telling someone, since those words may be your last.

I'm going to tell you all something right now. If something like this happens to you, it's not your fault, you're not alone, you're not crazy and you're not stupid. The only person at fault is the one who did it. If that applies to mugging, autotheft, and extortion, it also applies to this type of violence. You have a right to your emotions, they aren't irrational. They're your soul's way of recognizing that YOU HAVE BEEN WRONGED! Someone overstepped their boundaries in the worst way imaginable and abused power and strength in a way that's grotesque beyond imagination. We should trust in people, trust that adults can be adults and that people can be fair and kind. Sadly, that trust was betrayed in horrible ways. Ladies, I don't care what you were wearing, whom you've slept with in the past (which doesn't make you a bad person, regardless of the amount of degrading terms), your sexuality, what you were drinking, etc. No excuse. Men, I don't care what your sexuality is, how you were assaulted, or whether or not you should have been able to "fight them off." They wronged YOU, they should be the humiliated ones.

We are human beings. As human beings, we were endowed with basic human rights, to life, liberty and property. This includes rights as simple as being treated like human beings, as having the right to consent to sexual activity, as not being beaten or killed because we spent a penny too much at the corner store and had the nerve to leave when we smelled violence. Criminals are masterminds and know how to work the system, how to prey on victims. We all are in the wrong place at the wrong time from time to time. We've all misjudged people. Do we deserve to be punished for that in such an evil manner?

I ask everyone to speak out, to fight back. Don't let the criminals win. This is everyone's issue, not just a woman's issue (since women aren't the only ones getting raped anyway). And if you find yourself saying, "They deserved this," "Well, that's what she gets for wearing something like that," "He should be happy to be so lucky," "She's a slut anyway," I ask you to remember the people in your life. Is there something they're not saying? And would you dare say such things if it happened to them? Finally, what if it happened to you?

Stealing is a crime. Especially when it involves trust, innocence, the security of our bodies, and a basic belief in human goodness. Let's steal it all back tonight.

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