Thursday evening’s Take Back the Night at Ohio State was no event for fair-weather feminists. Despite strong winds, temperatures of about 50 degrees and intermittent rain, more than a hundred people participated in the annual WARR (Women and Allies Rising in Resistance) event to protest gendered violence.
“Take Back the Night is an event that’s been going on since the 70s,” said Tess Sabo, the event coordinator. “It’s a response to violence in the streets, and violence in our homes, violence against women, sexual assault and other forms of abuse. It’s designed to raise awareness and empowerment, and hopefully to eventually bring an end to violence.”
This year’s theme was “Back to Our Roots,” where the focus was taken away from the distinction between second and third wave feminism in favor of best practices and success stories.
“We’re focusing on our community as feminists throughout the years who have had different experiences,” said Sabo, a fourth-year in environmental policy and management.
Take Back the Night creates a safe space where survivors of sexual assault can tell their stories and speak out about their perpetrators.
“I’ve only heard stories of rape through my mom and the newspapers and the police, but I’ve never actually met or heard some female on our campus speak personally about her experience,” said Lindsay Nelson, a third-year in international studies and women’s studies. “That’s something I’m really interested in hearing about because it makes this issue really personal and real, because it could happen to me.”
One sexual assault survivor did tell her story by standing up in front of the pre-march crowd. Emily Kitsmiller, a fourth-year in psychology, told the personal details of her experience at her former school, Ohio University. At one point, she described the irony in her thought process immediately following her assault by an acquaintance.
“He had asked me to stay with him that night, and I didn’t really know what to do. I didn’t want him driving me home, and I didn’t want to walk home alone. And this strikes me every time that I really stop to think about it. I didn’t want to walk home alone because I didn’t want to be raped. Because that’s how it happens, right? That’s how I had always heard about rape, because women do something ‘stupid’ like walk home alone at night and all the crazy guys in the alleys attack you and rape you.”
Kitsmiller described her fight for legal justice as the worst part of her experience.
“My walk through hell had barely begun,” she said. “I was about to begin the real fight, which is the fight of words and lies.”
Although her story detailed a long and trying healing process, Kitsmiller proudly concluded that she is not a rape victim, but a rape survivor. She explained the importance of telling her story in order to teach others about rape culture and how to stand up against rape insensitivity. The crowd was vocally and emotionally supportive with their words of encouragement and applause.
Former Congresswoman Mary Jo Kilroy gave a speech following Kitsmiller’s survival story. She continued the discussion on justice for sexual assault victims by calling for political campaigns to address the nation-wide backlog of rape kits, which are evidence collection kits performed on victims to identify their rapists.
“Tens of thousands of women have undergone that rape kit testing following a rape,” Kilroy said. “And yet tens of thousands of these rape kits sit in police storage facilities untested; the DNA unmatched against the sexual offender registry, against databases; the rapists still on the street, a woman still in fear.”
During the speeches, winds picked up and turned audience members’ umbrellas inside out. Tents were broken and rain followed. But the large crowd held out and the weather improved just before the march began.
“We didn’t expect it to be so windy and that caused at least as many problems as the rain did,” Sabo said. “But it was really impressive to see so many people stay, and I think when you are able to stay together through something as adverse as really cold rain, it makes the experience that much better, that much more empowering. It brings you together more.”
It wasn’t Sabo’s first experience participating in a protest, but it was her first Take Back the Night.
“This was a little bit different than doing a political rally because people respond. Sometimes it’s really good— it’s people who are cheering you on, it’s people who are responding in a positive way.”
But Sabo said she also noticed negative responses from some spectators.
“One of the men was shouting ‘No means yes and yes means anal,’ which is the chant that got a fraternity at Yale in big trouble, and rightfully so. But it was really empowering to see all of the women in the march just ignore him, except they lifted up their hands and flipped him off, and that was great,” she said.
The march left the Wexner plaza to go through the southwest part of campus, across South Campus Gateway, to the corner of Indianola and East 15th Avenue and back.
“Walking through High Street and then through streets with all the fraternity houses, I think this is a great place for us to go out and send out the message that we’re not going to accept violence,” said Rachel Adkins, a graduate student in social work.
Many participants spoke on the efforts to end gendered violence being a responsibility of men as well as women. While the march was exclusively for women, men did participate in the other aspects of the event by discussing their role in ending the rape culture.
Kenny Myers, a second-year in international studies, built a collaboration between WAAR and College Democrats for Ohio State.
“It’s okay to be a man and be a feminist. You’re not losing your masculinity,” Myers said. “In fact it’s actually quite masculine to be able to stand up for a woman instead of committing a crime against her.