Organizers of the annual Take Back the Night vigils and marches across the United States often cite the Thoreau quote as epitomizing one of the movement’s key principles. The power of speaking out, they say, is essential to ending the stigma associated with sexual violence against women.
Offenses like rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and domestic violence are often labeled “crimes of silence” because of low reporting rates and the discomfort that many people have with discussing them publicly.
Talking about the crimes, however, not only lessens society’s tolerance for such violence, but also can help promote healing in victims.
“Take Back the Night helps survivors know that they are not alone, and it helps bystanders understand sexual violence so that it can be addressed in more parts of public life,” says Luke Brockmeier, one of the organizers of the local event.
This year the Take Back the Night march and candlelight vigil for Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky will be held April 26.
The event will begin at 6:30 p.m. when marchers leave from Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point, located at the end of Eggleston Avenue in downtown Cincinnati. They will proceed across the Ohio River and end at the World Peace Bell at York and Fourth streets in Newport, where a speak-out will be held. Survivors of sexual crimes against women and loved ones can share their stories in a safe, inclusive environment, if they choose.
The march and vigil are free and participants may join in during any part.
Take Back the Night’s history can be traced to Philadelphia in October 1975. That’s when residents gathered to protest the murder of Susan Alexander Speeth, a young microbiologist who was stabbed to death by a stranger just one block from her home while walking alone.
A candlelight procession was then held on the city’s streets.
Six months later, in March 1976, a similar vigil was held at the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women in Brussels, Belgium. More than 2,000 women representing 40 nations attended the event.
The movement gradually spread across the United States and Europe, attracting thousands of participants. Although the marches originally were held for women only, many events — including Cincinnati’s — now welcome men, acknowledging they can be survivors of sexual abuse or supportive allies in the cause.
Despite Take Back the Night’s nearly 40-year-old beginnings, its mission remains relevant.
Statistics indicate that one in six women in the United States will be survivors of a sexual assault, and that a rape occurs every two minutes.
In total, 17.7 million American women have been victims of an attempted or completed rape. And the crime still primarily affects women: Nine of every 10 rape victims were female in 2003.
According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), 44 percent of victims of sexual violence are under age 18, and 80 percent are under age 30.
About two-thirds of all rapes are committed by someone known to the victim, and 38 percent of rapists are a friend or acquaintance. In fact, statistics show that 28 percent are committed by a significant other, and 7 percent are committed by a relative.
To some observers, those facts point toward a cultural tolerance of violence against women, which events like Take Back the Night seek to eliminate.
There is an average of 207,754 victims — ages 12 or older — of sexual assault each year. Of that number, 54 percent of sexual assaults aren’t reported to police, and 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
“When Rush Limbaugh calls women sluts, when rape survivors are forced to give birth, and when universities like Xavier and Penn State systematically protect serial rapists, that tells our boys that men are in control of a woman’s sexuality,” Brockmeier says. “Sexual violence goes unreported because there are so many high-profile cases where the victim will be slandered in the press while nothing can be proven against the perpetrator. Our culture blames victims and shames them into protecting their attacker.”
For people who think that pregnancies resulting from rape don’t happen in any great amount, think again.
In 2004-05, 64,080 women were raped, according to the U.S. Justice Department. Medical studies indicate the incidence of pregnancy for one-time, unprotected sexual intercourse is 5 percent. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, RAINN estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.
Still, there is reason for hope.
Sexual assault has fallen by more than 60 percent in recent years, RAINN states. Had the 1993 rate held steady, 6.8 million Americans would have been assaulted during the last 13 years.
Due to the decline, the actual number of victims was about 4.2 million. RAINN attributes the drop to increased awareness, and notes that an additional 2,546,420 Americans would have become victims of sexual violence if the rate had held steady.
This year’s theme for Cincinnati’s vigil is “bystander intervention.” The speak-out will include a speaker who will provide tips on how to become involved if a person witnesses a sexual assault or suspects sexual violence is occurring.
“We are all bystanders to sexual violence; we know that it’s all too common, and there’s more we can be doing to prevent it,” Brockmeier adds. “Bystander intervention training lets you know what you can do to reduce violence in your life.” ©