Rally raises awareness

By Leigh Krahenbuhl

The Annual Take Back the Night rally and march will take place Friday, April 21 as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

The event, which features a protest against violence toward women, will raise the issue of sexual assault and provide those who have experienced violence first hand a place to share their stories.

The rally will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Anniversary Plaza on the south side of the Illini Union. There will be speakers and an opportunity for attendees to talk about their experiences.

Kate Conway, senior in LAS and President of Promoting Awareness Victim Empowerment, a Registered Student Organization, has been involved in the planning of the Take Back the Night rally and march, and said it is a prime opportunity for many groups and individuals on campus to come together and create awareness.

“This is a great way to get attention for the issue of sexual assault, which is often a very silent issue,” Conway said.

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According to the University Division of Public Safety, 44 acts of forcible rape were committed at the University between 2002 and 2004. However, only an estimated 10 percent of rapes are actually reported to the police, according to the University Counseling Center. According to the center’s Web site, as many as one in four college women will experience an act of sexual assault or rape during their time at the University.

Jennie Hill, graduate assistant for the Office of Women’s Programs and rally organizer, said that sexual violence is a very important issue for people to understand.

The event, which is expected to bring 300 to 400 people, will create a good environment for all attendees, especially survivors of sexual assault, Hill said.

“It is a place for survivors of sexual violence to come and feel empowered or to yell and scream and take out their frustrations,” Hill said. “The survivors can be a part of a supportive environment and know that they are not alone.”

Immediately following the rally, there will be a march around campus in the dark for the women. The march will cover areas on campus that females often fear walking near at night.

The evening will conclude with a concert by singer/songwriter Nedra Johnson of San Francisco with an opening by local artist, Megan Johns at the Wesley Foundation Great Hall, 1203 W. Green St.

The Take Back the Night rally and march is one of many events that are held all over the world in support of taking a stand against sexual violence. The Take Back the Night tradition stemmed from protests of women who were subject to fear and violence on the streets of London dating back to as early as 1877, according the Web site for the headquarters of Take Back the Night. The first rally in the United States took place in San Francisco in 1978.

Ross Wantland, coordinator of sexual assault education at the University, said that while working at the office of women’s programs, he has been exposed to the steady stream of students who have experienced sexual assault. The prevalence of sexual assault at the University, and the need for something to be done makes an event like Take Back the Night especially important, Wantland said.

“I feel like every year, part of this rally and march is to come together and say ‘we’re not ok with this and we’re going to work to create a community that can stand up against sexual violence,'” Wantland said.