April 19, 2004

Students March Against Sexual Assault

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Students gathered on Ho Plaza last Friday night for the Take Back the Night march and rally to draw awareness to the problems of sexual assault. Participants marched down to the Ithaca Commons and followed Wendy Soref ’04, member of the Take Back the Night Collective, as she led the crowd in various chants with a megaphone, shouting, “People unite! Take back the night!”

Marches led by Cornell, Ithaca College and community participants converged on the Commons for the rally.

“We are marching down to the Commons to speak out against sexual violence,” said Kelly Connison, director of the Cornell Women’s Resource Center.

“I am inspired by the levels of solidarity and compassion that come out of this incredibly meaningful event,” Soref said.

After some drumming and dancing, Soref introduced Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson to a crowd of approximately 300 people.

“It’s sad that we still have to be here; a woman was assaulted just down that alley two weeks ago,” Peterson said, who was wearing a Take Back the Night t-shirt from 1979.

Participants spoke and read poetry which was followed by a performance by the a cappella group, After Eight, and the theater group, Ordinary People.

“We’re figuring out how to get people to think and talk about these issues that make people uncomfortable,” said Heather Campbell, education director of the Advocacy Center. She announced that the year’s theme was “Stand Up, Stand Out, Stand Together.” The event retold the story of Kitty Genovese, who was attacked, raped and murdered in 1964 while witnesses did nothing to intervene or stop it.

“We have to deal with public apathy and the assumption that sexual assault and violence is a private issue,” Campbell said. According to Campbell, T-shirts made by local survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse were on display on the Commons as part of “The Clothesline Project.”

“It puts a very human face on the sexual and domestic violence statistics,” she added.

Arm bands were distributed to participants — blue for supporters and purple for survivors.

“Without saying anything, people are saying something — this might be the first time that they are acknowledging [an assault],” said Tania Villa, an Ithaca resident.

Michele Fruscio, an Ithaca College student and member of the collective, said, “I have been coming to this event for the past three years and I just got the courage to put on a purple arm band.”

“The issues of rape, domestic violence, and safety are so critical,” said Fay Gougakis, an Ithaca resident. She added that “no matter how small or large the rally is, it’s important that it continues and the issue is kept alive.”

Other speakers at the rally included Katharyn Howd Machan, poet laureate of Tompkins County and Catherine Shea, a sexual assault nurse examiner at Cayuga Medical Center.

The event was planned by the Take Back the Night Collective, an organization composed of multiple local groups including CWRC and the Advocacy Center. The Cornell Women’s Rugby Football Club also helped sponsor the rally and many of the team members were present.

“I feel really strongly about making things safe, and this is another way to show support,” said Maisie Wright ’06.

“I thought it was very good until the political speaking started,” said Anna Isfort ’07, referring to the skepticism and criticism of President Bush that was voiced by some speakers, including Gougakis. A man in the audience, holding a sign that read Juanita Broaddrick, responded, “George Bush didn’t rape anyone; Bill Clinton raped this woman.”

Afterwards, Soref asked speakers not to make any further political comments.

Take Back the Night began in Europe in 1976 and was first held in the United States in San Francisco in 1978.

Archived article by Vanessa Hoffman
Sun Staff Writer