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Take Back the Night begins on Grounds

Week focuses on raising awareness, education on sexual assault

<p>The annual event features a march across Grounds to speak out against violence in the University community.</p>

The annual event features a march across Grounds to speak out against violence in the University community.

The University community will come together this week for Take Back the Night 2016, an annual week-long event focused on raising awareness and creating a safe environment for survivors of sexual assault and violence.

Take Back the Night is an international organization with a goal to end sexual, domestic and relationship violence.

The University’s Take Back the Night organization consists of eight committees and over 100 people. It collaborates with with groups such as the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, the English department and Counseling and Psychological Services to put on a week of events.

The week began with a Monday night vigil where survivors shared their personal stories of sexual assault with the University community. In past years, the vigil has been scheduled for the end of the week, but was made the inaugural event this year.

Sumedha Deshmukh, a Batten graduate student and major events coordinator for the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, said TBTN leaders decided to reschedule the vigil to accommodate attendees who want to seek counseling over the course of the week in case the accounts at the vigil were triggering for them.

The final event — a Saturday night gala — is a new addition to TBTN and will be held at the Fralin Museum and feature a capella performances, a catered dinner and guest speaker Law Prof. Anne Coughlin.

The night will also focus on the Fralin’s current exhibition “Two Extraordinary Women: The Lives and Art of Maria Cosway and Mary Darby Robinson.”

Tori Travers, a third-year Batten student and gala committee co-chair, said the gala is meant to end the week on a note of optimism and togetherness.

“My hope is that this event is one of hope and optimism for survivors,” Travers said in an email statement. “More than that, however, I hope it helps the U.Va. community see women and men who have experienced sexual assault as people, peers and friends — and not just defined by what happened to them, not just as survivors.”

Travers said TBTN has experienced a renewed fervor in the wake of a tumultuous year and the now-retracted Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus.”

The article — which was published in November 2014 — detailed the alleged brutal gang rape of “Jackie.” A Charlottesville Police Department investigation, however, found no evidence of the alleged crime, and discrepancies in Jackie’s account ultimately led Rolling Stone to retract the article in April 2015.

“The events hit close to home and reminded us why we should get angry and passionately call attention to [and] fight rape culture, misogyny and sexual assault on Grounds,” Travers said. “However, I've also noticed an increased emphasis on healing and togetherness and compassion, as well.”

Liamarie Quinde, fourth-year Batten student and internal chair of the Sexual Violence Prevention Coalition, said the experience of dealing with the Rolling Stone article raised awareness of the issue of sexual assault in general.

“It was definitely a difficult experience, but it’s definitely something that we’ve taken into consideration and really focused on trying to make this year as positive of an experience as possible,” Quinde said.

Alex Rigby, a second-year College student and public relations chair for TBTN, said the 100 or so people who planned this week are a testament to the fact that tough times bring the University community closer.

“Different people from diverse backgrounds, different places on Grounds [are] working hard to create a better U.Va., a better space, a better country [and] a better culture for everyone,” Rigby said. “I think that’s just a testament to how we as wahoos are able to come together to move forward and look towards positive change.”

Part of that effort includes a Wikipedia Edit-a-ton, led by University Green Dot Director Francesca Tripodi, where students and volunteers will help correct false information about sexual assault on the Internet.

“One of the things we really talk about in the advocacy community is that education is by far the most important tool to have people understand the issue of sexual assault, and the first place people go for that information is the Internet,” Quinde said. “That’s why we wanted to do the edit-a-thon, because we felt it really addressed that problem and showed that we are trying our best to get rid of that false information out of there.”

The week of events also includes an open mic night, a “Day of Healing” and a march down the Lawn.