The Center for Women’s Concerns brought survivors together to share stories and connect in strength and moving forward.
Take Back the Night was hosted by the Center for Women’s Concerns and was an opportunity for victims of sexual and domestic violence, and those who stand in solidarity with them, to share their stories in an anonymous and inclusive environment.
“We will not tolerate violence in our communities and that’s what tonight is all about,” Title IX coordinator Butterfly Blaise said.
The entrances to the Warren Ballrooms located in the Angell College Center were made smaller by partitions to block the light coming from outside. Paper bag lanterns with inspirational messages dedicated to survivors aligned each row of seats.
Local community outreach agencies such as Planned Parenthood and Behavioral Health Services North set up informational tables and gave away free t-shirts, bracelets, drawstring bags and pens.
The Center for Women’s Concerns’ table was covered in a cloth on which supporters could write positive messages to survivors of violence and then safety pin them onto a large fabric of friendship and solidarity. Words like “You are strong,” and “I wish you happiness” were scattered about the felt banner.
The main event of Take Back the Night was a video chat with author and feminist Sabrina Chap. She discussed with the audience her personal struggles with shame after experiencing intrapersonal, sexual and domestic violence and her tips to get passed them.
“There’s a lot of shame that comes with sexual assault and trauma,” Chap said.
Chap established that many survivors of assault try to “self destruct” as a result of the shame and guilt they feel. These individuals may avoid all responsibilities and cut all social ties, as well as sometimes commit suicide.
“Self-destructing is not a weak action. It takes power to lose control,” Chap said. “You look in the mirror and see a woman shaming herself; I see a woman with immense power who just didn’t know where to put it.”
Chap read excerpts from her book “Live Through This: On Creativity and Self-Destruction”, as well as other women who have written and produced art as a reaction to trauma such as photographer Nat Golden, writer Carol Queen and cartoonist Christie Road.
“I wanted to write about self-destruction in a way that wasn’t shameful,” Chap said, “in a way that made me feel f–cking awesome.”
Chap knew her audience as a “badass group of survivors” and talked about the correlation between intelligence, knowing the intricate evils of the world and understanding them, and sadness and an urgent feeling to gain control.
“It’s not just you, it’s society that’s f–cked up,” Chap said. “Your entire existence is a rebellion, just the very fact of you.”
If feeling overwhelmed, audience members could at any moment go down the hall to the Alumni Conference Room, which became a Serenity Room for the night. Coloring, Play-Doh and other stress-relieving activities were available to anyone needing a break from the subject matter being discussed in the ballrooms.
The talk inspired members of the audience and set the stage for the speak out.
Members of the audience then silently emerged from their seat and told their stories into a microphone. People shared stories of violence at home. Other students spoke of a time they were sexually assaulted, for which some speakers occurred at home.
The ballrooms became an affinity space.
“When I say affinity space, it means truly an inclusive space,” Blaise said, “and everyone in the room has their own experiences and identity.”
It was made clear that disempowerment would not be tolerated, but other than this, expression was very free and speakers felt comfortable enough to share what may have been the most difficult moments in their lives.
“Know your strength resides within you whether you share your stories or not,” Blaise said.
Because of the rain, the annual march through the streets, where survivors of violence could come together to reclaim their courage, strength, and independence and take back the night.