Take Back the Night: Giving Voice to Survivors and Empowering Leadership

Three years ago, I spoke at Take Back the Night—an annual event at my university, for survivors of sexual assault, relationship, and domestic violence to speak out about their experiences. That event changed the trajectory of my life as I realized that I did not have to stay silent anymore.

During my first years at the university, I experienced sexual assault and relationship violence. After these experiences, I tried to be invisible. I blamed myself and remained silent because I feared persecution for speaking out against my abusers and seeking justice. However, as time passed and I reflect on my situation, I realized that I couldn’t be the only one living in silence.  According to the Association of American Universities, 1 in 4 women on college campuses experience sexual assault or misconduct (2015), and these are only the reported cases. As I began to wonder about other survivors on my campus, I suspected that others may have felt shame and blamed themselves like I did. As I remained silent, I grew more frustrated. I was bothered that survivors didn’t feel they could speak out openly, so I made the decision to speak out about my abuse to take a stand against victimization.

Take Back the Night is an open mic event that often includes marches, rallies and vigils. Since its founding in the 1970’s, Take Back the Night has been a significant event—providing a space where survivors are not silenced by society, instead it is a place of understanding and support. Personally, choosing to speak that night was one of the most terrifying decisions I’d ever made, but it changed my life and gave me hope.  Having felt silenced by the stigma and victim-shaming around sexual abuse for so long, I finally found a space to feel understood and supported. In standing up and bearing witness to my trauma, I felt that I was speaking up not just for myself, but for everyone in the audience still struggling to breach their silence.

From speaking out, I decided to dedicate myself to working with survivors to help them heal and find justice. During my senior year, I directed the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Activists (SARVA) – a student run commission that works to end sexual assault and relationship violence through advocacy and education. Through that position, I was honored to work with other commissions and student groups to talk about topics such as consent, toxic masculinity, how to report and the importance of sharing your narrative. After graduating from the University of Washington, I continued my work to end gender-based violence and have taken on numerous roles including; an advocate with a local domestic violence agency, a consultant with the City of Seattle, and an ally working with local universities and student groups on better representation of student survivors.

I feel very fortunate to be able to do this work and to be able to meet so many inspiring people everyday. Today, I wouldn’t be where I am without the support I have received from the survivor community. I’m forever thankful, and it all started with Take Back the Night.

 -Author, Anonymous.