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Take Back the Night holds vigil for survivors, event reclaiming bars as safe space during Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Two of seven the student-run organization is hosting to increase awareness for sexual violence and domestic abuse were held earlier this week

<p>As the sun set Friday night, dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil at Ern Commons, where survivors of sexual assault and abuse, loved ones of survivors and allies from both the University and the greater Charlottesville communities gathered to share their stories.</p>

As the sun set Friday night, dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil at Ern Commons, where survivors of sexual assault and abuse, loved ones of survivors and allies from both the University and the greater Charlottesville communities gathered to share their stories.

Take Back the Night, a student-run organization dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence and domestic abuse, hosted Take Back the Bar and a vigil for survivors this weekend. The two events are part of seven in-person events Take Back the Night is hosting throughout April in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Take Back the Night events throughout the month cover a number of topics, from education and awareness-spreading — such as an upcoming Title IX Alternatives and Reporting event — to ones focused on community-based support, such as the upcoming Day of Healing on April 22.

VIgil for survivors of sexual violence, allies and community members

As the sun set Friday night, dozens gathered for a candlelight vigil at Ern Commons, where 

survivors of sexual assault and abuse, loved ones of survivors and allies from both the University and the greater Charlottesville communities gathered to share their stories.

Kendall Kalber, co-chair of the vigil and fourth-year College student, planned the event as similar vigils are being held throughout the country during April.

“I think that the vigil just offers a really open and accepting environment for people to share their story and receive that support from other survivors, allies, and just people from the community,” Kalber said. 

With an opening performance of “My Heart With You” by a capella group The New Dominions, the vigil included prepared speeches but also an open microphone portion where anyone attending was allowed the opportunity to speak. 

To make attendees aware of the sexual violence prevention, reporting and rehabilitation resources available to them, speakers from various organizations also spoke at the vigil. Among them were the local branch of the Sexual Assault Resource Agency, or SARA, as well as the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services office. 

Katie Aplis, the crisis services director at SARA, highlighted the organization’s around-the-clock hotline providing assistance to victims of sexual assault. Individuals can call (504) 977-7273 at any point to confidentially discuss a sexual assault they have experienced and seek resources for reporting or mental health services. 

Dr. Lilian Mezey, an in-house psychiatrist at CAPS, spoke about the resources CAPS provides to support victims, such as crisis walk-in appointments, online sexual encounter resources, CAPS after hours phone lines and Talk Now therapy services.

Mezey made a point to note that CAPS employees do not have an obligation to report sexual assault cases to the University or police, and said she hopes victims are more comfortable seeking aid after an incident of sexual misconduct with this knowledge. 

Melissa Shifflett, the fiscal manager at the Shelter for Help and Emergency, also spoke during the vigil. SHE provides a vast array of resources to victims of domestic violence — ranging from providing temporary accommodations to operating a 24-hour hotline, accompanying those seeking aid to court and offering counseling services — all free of charge for members of the greater Charlottesville area. 

Shifflet highlighted the difficulty many survivors face to reach out and escape abusive relationships, citing that it takes on average between seven and 10 times for a victim to truly leave an abusive situation. A survivor herself, Shifflet drew attention to her observation that the time it takes for the emotional and psychological wounds inflicted to heal dwarfs the recovery process from any physical wounds. 

Recognizing the emotional and psychological scars left by surviving sexual abuse or domestic violence, a special emphasis was placed on poetry as a form of healing throughout the evening. Lucy Resar, co-president of Take Back The Night and third-year Batten student, noted poetry’s potential powers for emotional recovery and proceeded to read Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise

Throughout the evening, attendees recited poems from various notable authors such as Emily Dickinson and Ernest Hemingway, and some attendees shared poetry they had written themselves. 

This goal of creating an open, safe space for dialogue aligned with the event’s overarching message echoed by Kalber, the various speakers from the community and support agencies on the importance of reaching out for help when in abusive relationships, something that becomes even harder to do without a supportive community surrounding victims. Kalber offered insight into the necessity of establishing supportive networks at the University where students can confidentially talk to friends, loved ones or professionals about their experiences with sexual violence.

“I think what needs to change the most is our support and willingness to hear [survivors],” Kalber said. “I think that it shouldn't be something that has to be relegated to a certain space or conversation.”

Following the vigil, first-year College Student Audrey Michel reflected on the significance of the need for open dialogue.

“I think it was important for just there to be a place within everything happening — especially during Sexual Assault [Awareness] month — to have a moment and a break to speak about issues that have affected people, and just reflect on that,” Michel said.  

University students who experience sexual violence or domestic abuse can seek support networks through Counseling and Psychological Services as well as through the Maxine Platzer Lynn Women’s Center.

Take Back the Bar event reclaims Crozet as safe space for survivors

Each year, as a part of Take Back the Night’s series of event, the organization hosts Take Back the Bar, an event where survivors of sexual violence and supporters of sexual assault prevention can reclaim a local bar as a safe space for gathering. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Take Back the Bar was canceled for the past two years but returned on Saturday night with participants gathering in Crozet Pizza for two hours. 

The event was open to anyone who purchased a $5 entry wristband. Before entering Crozet, participants were reminded by members of Take Back the Night of the responsibility to ensure the event would remain safe and comfortable for all. 

The event specifically aims to reclaim a bar as a safe space for survivors due to the high prevalence of sexual violence incidents that involve alcohol. At American universities, 26.4 percent of undergraduate female students and 6.8 percent of undergraduate male students experience rape or sexual assault on campus — in about half of reported campus sexual assaults, alcohol was involved. 

The presence of illegal substances can also impact a survivor’s comfort in reporting their assault. In a survey conducted at the University in 2019, 64.1 percent of female survivors of rape decided not to contact University resources, such as the University Police Department and the Title IX coordinator, because drugs or alcohol were involved. 

Madeleine Andrews, co-chair of Take Back the Night and fourth-year Education student, explained Take Back the Bar’s commitment to safety for everyone in attendance.

“The bar itself is really just as it normally is, people are just coming in and having a good time with their friends, but the atmosphere is that people know it’s a safe and secure place,” Andrews said. “It’s kind of symbolic, but we also want to make it a safe place with security.”

In a further measure of security, Andrews explained that Take Back the Bar event fliers featured a code leading to a form where potential attendees could anonymously list the name of someone they would be uncomfortable seeing at the event. The list of names was then given to Take Back the Bar members who monitored the event and stopped listed individuals from entering. 

“If there was someone out there that has made them uncomfortable [in the past], [we want people to] be able to confidently come to the space and know that they weren’t there,” Andrews said. 

All proceeds through wristband sales will be donated to the SARA. SARA representatives were present at the event to provide pamphlets, stickers and pins to all in attendance.

Interested individuals can attend a Communities of Color event on April 14 from 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. in the amphitheater, a Pride Festival and Picnic April 16 at 1 p.m. at Nameless Field, and the Day of Healing April 22 at a location that will soon be determined.