Marching across campus, waving signs and chanting, protestors of sexual abuse voiced their support of Women’s Violence Awareness Month at Tuesday night’s annual Take Back the Night rally.
The April 1 rally, march and speak-out marked nearly 20 years since the Shippensburg University Women’s Center has hosted the event. As April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month, the center has organized several events including the Clothesline Project, where decorated shirts are displayed throughout the CUB, and the Take Back the Night rally.
Around 100 to 125 students and participants showed up for the rally, according to Stephanie Erdice, director of the Women’s Center, including several sororities and other organizations from both on and off campus. The theme, “Shippensburg University says no more,” is an offshoot of the Pennsylvania Say No More campaign.
The keynote speaker for the event was Kristen Houser, vice president of public relations for Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape. Houser has been campaigning against sexual abuse and violence since her college years at Penn State University. She remembers participating in civil disobedience to raise awareness about the issues in the early 1990s. Although she does not encourage such disobedience, she recalled marches she participated in as a student activist.
“I remember marching across campus, and people would yell things at us out of their dorms,” Houser said. “They would yell ‘get back in the kitchen’ and other rude comments.”
Houser stressed how far things have come since then and referenced several encouraging statistics. Although the overall number of incidents is around the same, according to Houser, when she first became involved in 1992 around 20 percent of assaults were reported. Today that number is closer to 60 percent.
Take Back the Night began at 7:30 p.m. with Sharicka Peters, graduate intern with the Women’s Center, making introductory remarks.
SU’s Interim President George “Jody” Harpster then spoke, stressing the importance of participation in events like Tuesday night’s. He also discussed social media and how it is used as a platform to harass victims, but also is a great tool to combat sexual violence and raise awareness.
Houser was the next speaker, and discussed her work and how attitudes have changed over time. She also discussed how blaming victims is a common theme in society, and talked about the falseness of the concept. She said that drugs and alcohol are often used as an excuse by offenders, but they still make the choice.
Next, several dozen participants marched around campus voicing their protests. The march was followed by a speak-out, during which several individuals who have experienced sexual violence first-hand shared their experiences and gave advice.
Erdice has been coordinating the events for Sexual Violence Awareness Month, and was pleased with the turnout and an interactive, respectful audience.