Community Leaders for Take Back the Night Ann Arbor, Pam and Tom Swidler, know that sexual assault is not an easy subject to discuss, much less read about.
“My husband and I have been doing this [march] for about eight years. There’s still a lot of denial that this [sexual assault] happens,” said Pam. “If we can’t get people to acknowledge that this happens, we’re never going to be able to stop it.”
But as one of the driving forces behind the local chapter of Take Back the Night, and as a sexual assault survivor herself, bringing sexual assault out of the shadows and into the community’s consciousness is what drives her, and the local chapter of Take Back the Night, to continue pushing.
Rally and march
Take Back the Night is an international nonprofit organization that started in Europe before coming to the United States in the 1970s. The organization’s goal is to end sexual assault and domestic violence. While the organization doesn’t provide direct counseling services, it provides an outlet for women to share their experiences, and helps direct victims to the proper resources.
Most importantly, Take Back the Night seeks to raise awareness and educate men and women about the issue of sexual violence. Their biggest event of the year is the annual rally and march, which begins at the UM Union Ballroom with speakers and performances before marching to the Diag and moving through UM campus and downtown.
This year’s theme for the rally is “Expressions in Dance” and features performances from Body Rhythm Dance Theatre, Cadence and Lein Irish. The keynote speaker will be Quinn Davis, a Take Back the Night volunteer and SafeHouse advocate.
Students take charge
UM undergraduates serve as Student Leaders, which, according to Senior Student Leaders Cassie Schieltz and Audrey Parenti, allows young women to speak directly to the their peers.
It also allows Take Back the Night to challenge UM’s administration on their willingness to engage in meaningful conversation about sexual assault on campus. UM revamped its sexual assault policy in 2013. But, in 2014, UM was the subject of a formal Title IX investigation by the Department of Education of the administration’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints on campus.
“We reached out to President Schlissel last year and he said we wouldn’t be able to attend,” said Parenti. “This year, he said he wouldn’t be able to make it but would find someone in the administration to attend. He never followed through with that promise.”
“The university supports the work by our students and of other local organizations to ensure survivors participating in this event feel supported,” said UM spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald when asked about the rally. “As in previous years, members of the university’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center plan to attend the event to support participants and share information about the available confidential resources for survivors.”
Swidler noted that the issue isn’t so much a lack of university support as a general unawareness of just how prevalent sexual assault is in the community. She notes that a few years ago, the Take Back was lucky to get 50 participants. Last year, over 200 people showed up.
“I feel as it grows, it will make more of an impact and the administration of the University will make it a higher priority,” said Swidler—a process that may be too slow for some activists, but one that is happening. “If you think about it, when I was going to college, something like this didn’t even exist. So there is change that’s happening. But it’s a slow process, and that’s one thing that I think students appreciate, that we’re there to advocate for change.”
Take Back the Night’s annual rally and march will be held April 6 at 6:30pm
at the University of Michigan Union Ballroom, 530 S. State St.
For more information, visit tbtnannarbor.org.