‘Take Back the Night’ Recognizes Victims of Sexual Assault

The Women’s Center held an annual event entitled “Take Back the Night” Wednesday evening at O’Neill Plaza to discuss sexual assault at Boston College. The event featured an address by Jessica Shaw, a professor in the Lynch School who specializes in community response to sexual assault, speeches by two student survivors of sexual assault, musical performances, and culminated in a solidarity walk down to Lower Campus.

Take Back the Night events began in the 1960s and 1970s as protests against sexual violence, and have since spread to over 36 countries and 800 communities across the globe, according to the Take Back the Night Foundation’s website. This year’s event at BC was originally scheduled for March 21, but was moved to Wednesday due to poor weather conditions.

Shaw began her address with her story of how she became involved in preventing violence against women. After going to a mandatory program on sexual assault during her first year of college, she was inspired to become one of the student facilitators of the program. Becoming more interested in learning about being a student facilitator, she completed 40 hours of training to work the sexual assault hotline at her local rape crisis center and became a medical advocate to accompany survivors to the hospital after their assaults. With more training, she became involved in education and prevention work in her community and university.

While originally planning to pursue a graduate degree in neuroscience, conversations with a mentor and exposure to community psychology convinced her to switch to a graduate degree in community psychology with a focus on sexual assault.  

“Since making that pivot, I have never looked back, never doubted that this is where I am supposed to be, and I am privileged to do this work everyday,” Shaw said. “I tell you this story as I am here today to tell you that this work matters. Don’t let anyone ever tell you different. That I am doing the work that I am supposed to do, that I am privileged to do it every day, does not mean that this work is easy.”

Shaw then spoke on the effect that her research has had on her and how it motivates her to prevent sexual violence.

“In my research I have encountered thousands of sexual assault cases,” Shaw said. “I have read and told the stories of hundreds of survivors and when I sit down with my community partners and think how we might craft solutions to emerging problems and how we work with survivors, I carry the weight of all those who have been hurt and I try to prevent further harm. I carry each survivor with me, and while it is heavy I am willing to carry it, as it helps lighten their load. Thus I am also here today to tell you, I see the weight that you carry, that we carry, and I know it’s heavy and I know it’s hard.”

Speaking to the student activists for ending sexual violence present, she offered words of support and solidarity.

“I imagine that you might get angry sometimes. I get angry too,” Shaw said. “I imagine you might feel sad. I do too. Perhaps sometimes you feel hopeless. I’ve also felt that. I hope you find comfort knowing that I, that others here sharing this space with you today, feel angry, sad, and hopeless too, as it means that you don’t have to feel that way all the time on you own. Thus I am here today to also tell you I will carry that weight with you.”

Next, two student survivors of sexual assault shared their stories. The Heights does not publish the names of victims of sexual violence, and they were not shared at the event.

The first survivor discussed the troubles she had with the conduct system and legal process at the Washington D.C. university where she experienced her assault. The conduct system failed to expel the perpetrator and lawyers threatened her with defamation lawsuits.

“Although I felt defeated, there were certain instances that shed light to the darkness of it all,” the student said. “BC’s Women’s Center provided me so much guidance and support throughout this whole process. They have introduced me to the Heal Group, a support group for survivors where I met incredible, fearless, and badass women and provided me one of the bravest and safest spaces.”

Her story was followed by a performance by the BC a cappella group, The Sharps.

The second survivor told her story of sexual assault, perpetrated by another BC student, and revealed the struggles she has had coming to terms with what happened.

“There was no way I could be a rape victim, because I am a rape survivor,” the student said. “Learning this powerful distinction has unlocked a world of opportunity for me, because being a victim means that I am defined by what you did to me in that room. Being a survivor means that I have been shaped and deeply impacted by that experience, but that it does not come even close to encompassing who I am.”

The a cappella group B.E.A.T.S. followed with a performance, and those who gathered observed a time for reflection. The staff of the Women’s Center stressed that its wide range of resources are available to anyone who needs them, especially the SANet hotline, through which anyone affected by sexual assault, including friends and roommates of survivors, can find support and guidance. To end the event, the crowd walked in solidarity from O’Neill Plaza to Lower in an effort to reclaim the space for all those affected by sexual violence.

Featured Image by Katie Genirs / Asst. Photo Editor