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Take Back the Night holds annual rally followed by vigil

Event part of week-long campaign

<p>Participants in the 2013&nbsp;rally march through Central Grounds.&nbsp;</p>

Participants in the 2013 rally march through Central Grounds. 

Take Back The Night held a rally Thursday at Lambeth Field to discuss sexual violence before the group moved to the amphitheater for a vigil.

After opening with a performance from a cappella group The Flying V’s, the talk featured several speakers from the University community and beyond.

Keynote speaker Gordon Braxton — a 2002 graduate of the Commerce School and a member of One in Four during his time at the University — encouraged people to become involved in anti-violence causes and explained that even small commitments matter.

“If you listen to what is said, what is being asked of you isn’t always too hard,” Braxton said. “I’m not saying these things are easy, but they have low time commitment.”

Additionally, he advocated for people to reach out whenever they feel the need to, which convinced him of the importance of this idea.

“Our social training doesn’t always have our best interest in mind,” Braxton said. “Train yourself to become articulate in spreading your cause.”

The other speakers featured similar themes, including Tom Lukas, an author who described his personal experiences with sexual assault and violence.

“You are the one’s who are going to make the difference,” Lukas said.

He also recognized wide range of resources University students have at their disposal that should be used to their best advantage.

The cast of Vagina Monologues performed twice, first presenting a message about owning one’s body, and then reading a poem written by a former University student containing the lyrics from popular songs that are particularly violent and demeaning.

Gil Harrington — the mother of Morgan Harrington, who disappeared while attending a concert at John Paul Jones arena in 2009 — spoke about the work she has done and the impact her daughter has had since her remains were discovered in 2010. The aunt of Alexis Murphy, the victim of a similar crime, also spoke.

Program Coordinator for Prevention Nicole Thomas spoke about the Green Dot program and urged people to become involved.

“Violence doesn’t belong in our communities, and we all have a part to do,” Thomas said.

After the rally, participants walked to the amphitheater for TBTN’s annual vigil, the culmination of its week-long campaign to combat and raise awareness about sexual assault and misconduct.

The vigil opened with a song by the Virginia Women’s Chorus as well as a performance by the University a cappella group the Academical Village People. Survivors then had the opportunity to come forward, either anonymously or not, to share their personal stories in front of the community.

Amelia Nemitz, Take Back the Night co-chair for the vigil, said the event is above all focused on establishing a system of support.

“The vigil provides a safe and anonymous space for survivors of sexual violence to share their stories with the community,” Nemitz said. “It [also] gives the community a chance to provide their support and learn more about the issue.”

Take Back the Night also works in coordination with the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, which provides advocates each year to support speakers and audience members who wish to receive counsel.

Erica Robertson, major events chair for the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, said the event is one of the most emotional and engaging of the week-long campaign. SVPC is the umbrella organization which brings together various advocacy groups on grounds, such as One Less and One in Four.

“It’s one of many events that we have during the week — but I think it’s one of the most touching and empowering because it’s very personal and you feel that connection even if you don’t know who it is,” Robertson said.

Survivors who chose to speak at the event had the option to do so either from within or outside a covered tent to preserve anonymity. SARA and Take Back the Night volunteers also offered to read any stories should an individual not feel comfortable speaking up by him- or herself.

Nemitz said she is amazed by the courage of those who come forward to speak and grateful for the support the vigil itself provides.

“We just want to offer a big thank you to all the survivors to those in the audience and those who speak,” Nemitz said. “We really admire their courage in coming forward and again, we appreciate the audience especially because their support is really crucial for us to create the community of support for survivors at the University.”

First-year College student Madi Baril, a member of the Take Back the Night Open Arts Board, said she believes having the vigil is especially important for the University this year.

“The events that have happened [on Grounds this semester]...have only been brief moments of awareness,” Baril said. “Take Back the Night is supporting a movement that is sustainable, and to come out and support actual survivors rather than the idea of survivors is really important to me.”

Baril said the vigil itself is both hopeful and heartbreaking for her.

“It felt really heavy and I’m actually kind of scared that this is something that happens so frequently,” Baril said. “Even though I’ve read so much about it and tried to keep informed its terrifying to think that sexual assault happens to one in four women on college campuses.”

Baril also stressed the overall message of hope and support the vigil sends to the community, not only for survivors, but for allies as well.

“I think it was very powerful evening for everybody,” Baril said. “I really hope those messages reach all those people who they were supposed to meet, including supporters and survivors and also perpetrators.”