by Anja Wuolu
Survivors of sexual violence and their allies rallied in response to this ongoing crisis on a cold autumn night Oct. 13 at an event titled “Central MN Take Back the Night” on the campus of the College of St. Benedict.
Participants networked, listened to speakers and marched directly down the middle of Minnesota Street. Today, the movement against sexual violence is about changing the way sexual violence is thought of. Instead of focusing on telling women and girls to protect themselves, the emphasis is on teaching all people about consent, supporting survivors and providing resources.
Among the many notable organizations present were the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center, Anna Marie’s Alliance, The St. Cloud Veterans Administration Military Sexual Trauma program, St. Cloud State University Women’s Center, CSB/St. John’s University, Central Minnesota Child Advocacy Center, Planned Parenthood, Zonta International, CSB Campus Security, CSB/SJU Multicultural Student Services and various other student organizations from CSB/SJU.
The event began with a social gathering. A diverse crowd of sexual assault survivors and their allies ate pizza, drank hot chocolate and connected with community resources. So many people attended the hot chocolate ran out.
Along with the tables of community organizations, T-shirts on clotheslines formed a backdrop. The shirts were created by survivors of sexual assault as well as a few allies. Many accounts reveal the assaults happened when they were children, in the military or with a friend they thought they could trust.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Military Sexual Trauma fact sheet, one in three women and one in 50 men who use VA health care report they have experienced military sexual trauma. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, more than half of all sexual violence incidents occur at home. Other common places include at school or a relative’s home.
This means the street is not necessarily the most dangerous place for a vulnerable person to be. Sexual violence often takes place in the spaces where people are supposed to be safe. It needs to be addressed as a community.
After the social event came the speakers. Every chair set out on the lawn for the speech was occupied. Twice that number stood in the back on the edges to listen. Speakers read the names of all 26 victims who are known to have died from intimate-partner violence in Minnesota in the last year. Statistics about the prevalence of sexual assault were also read.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are more than 60 million survivors of childhood sexual abuse in America today – that’s approximately 20 percent of the population. As many as 90 percent of those survivors never report their abuse to law enforcement, and more than 30 percent will never report their abuse to anyone. And many statistics are thought to be low because only 30 percent of sexual assaults are ever reported
Keynote speaker Peggy LaDue of the Central Minnesota Sexual Assault Center gave a brief history lesson on where the phrase “Take Back the Night” and its marches come from. 1800s London had something in common with 2000s St. Joseph: sexual violence. In London, women began rallying in the street at night to raise awareness and keep themselves safe. The event we know in the United States today as “Take Back the Night” began in the 1970s in California.
CMSAC has helped organize this event for several years. LaDue pointed out the message the sexual assault center is sending today is “Stop Raping!” as she and others work to change the culture around sexual violence.
All too often, when people are assaulted, they are not met with the attention and compassion they need. Instead, the survivors of violence face stigma, are asked “What were you wearing?” and are told to “get over it.” Many people never report being sexually assaulted to authorities because of the stigma.
Furthermore, reporting does not mean the perpetrator faces consequences. According to CMASC, only about six percent of alleged rapists face jail time. That means when a person is violated, they are socially punished more than their abuser.
This is changing. Events like “Central MN Take Back the Night” bring awareness to this enormous problem and inform participants on how to respond when their friend, a loved one or an acquaintance experiences sexual violence.
Finally, the culmination of the event was the march through campus into the community. Many of those marching lost the feeling in their hands and feet due to the cold, but they zealously marched forward.
In St. Joseph, about 200 women, men, nonbinary people, babies and dogs marched through the CSB campus, down the sidewalk of College Avenue and right down the middle of a blocked-off Minnesota Street. Participants chanted phrases such as “Yes means yes, no means no. Whatever we wear, wherever we go,” and “Hey hey, Ho ho, the patriarchy has got to go!”
Despite the cold, warmth radiated from the crowd. In that space, all marched in solidarity with each other.