On Thursday night, hundreds of people filled the Baker Center Ballroom to look at art exhibits and hear people speak about their experience with sexual violence. This event, called “Take Back the Night,” has been happening in Athens since 1979. As the name suggests, it is a way to take back the night from sexual and domestic violence by offering support to survivors and giving people a platform to share their stories and speak out against these issues.
Danni Grottla, a sophomore at Ohio University, said she wasn’t sure what to expect from the event, but wanted to hear what people had to say and see what resources at OU are available for survivors.
“I mostly took away this sense of community and solidarity amongst survivors and the people who stand by them and advocate for them. Everyone there genuinely cared about one another even if they didn’t know each other. It gave me a sense of peace that if I ever needed to reach out there would be a community there to support and believe me,” Grottla said.
This is exactly what Andrew Norris, an advocate at the Survivor Advocacy Program, said he wanted people to take away from “Take Back the Night.”
“I hope that students find a sense, even as small as it might be, a sense of re-empowerment from the event. That they’re not alone,” Norris said.
Before it was time to listen to the speakers, attendees milled about the ballroom, taking in the different art exhibits and visiting the booths of groups that sponsored the event, such as Ohio University’s Women’s Center, Student Senate and the Survivor Advocacy Program. The art included canvas paintings done by survivors and pictures of OU submissions to the Monument Quilt, a collection of over 3,000 stories that survivors have written, painted, and stitched onto pieces of red fabric.
As it came time for survivors to share their stories, seats filled up so quickly that people sat on the floor and stood around the perimeter of the ballroom. Love and support filled the room as the audience listened to six different survivors share their stories about the ways sexual violence has affected them.
“I’m standing here tonight because I believe in me, I believe in you, and I believe in us,” Claudia Cisneros, a graduate student at OU, said in her speech.
Cisneros was one of six survivors who shared their experiences with sexual assault or domestic abuse. Among them was Ariana Brown, also a graduate student at OU, who talked about being sexually assaulted by another student and the struggles she has gone through since then. Celestia Hathhorn, another student at OU, shared her experiences with sexual assault and compared her story to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who came forward with her story of allegedly being sexually assaulted by now-Supreme Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh. his battle with drug abuse.
“We’ve become really intentional about speaker diversity,” Kimberly Castor, the director of the Survivor Advocacy Program, said. “Whether that’s gender diversity, or skin color diversity, or just diversity of experience, so that people are hearing a variety of survivors speak and not a single narrative.”
After the speeches and performances, the crowd took to the streets. The group of speakers carried a large banner that said, “Take Back the Night,” leading the marchers down campus streets through the center of Athens. People chanted phrases such as “Brick by brick, wall by wall, we will make the system fall,” and “Yes means yes, no means no, whatever we wear, wherever we go.” The group of survivors and advocates marching under the streetlights was a powerful representation of what “Take Back the Night” is about.
“I think really it’s just being able to reclaim space where historically we as women might not have felt safe and comfortable and going out there with our greatest allies and friends and supporters and be able to just be there and say, like, I deserve to feel safe here,” Castor said.