by Victor Paul

Colored chalk and a flurry of last-minute activity dominated the scene of Wednesday night’s Take Back The Night rally and march in opposition to sexual violence against women.
More than 150 marchers gathered at Coffman Union to hear four speakers and one performance before embarking on a march around campus. Many participants scribbled sayings such as “Make the night safe,” and “Take back the nights, days, hours, lives and dates,” on the pavement outside Coffman with colored chalk provided by march organizers.
“I have this night to reclaim for the nights that I didn’t have,” said Juliana Pegues, a survivor of an abusive relationship, said of her two-year ordeal. “I want us all to reclaim this night.”
Pegues, a self-professed activist in the “movement for liberation” offered a slogan of encouragement for victims of abuse: “If you are raped, you are brave, you are strong and you deserve support.”
“It’s important to support these (rallies) because it affects us all and is a real live threat,” said College of Liberal Arts freshman Nora Sandstad.
Three other speakers offered their insights and shared their experiences of sexual abuse and violence. Ellen Birmingham is a survivor of incest who shared with the audience her goals “to publicize that incest survivors can heal and thrive and to publicize the terrible crime of incest.”
Chris Grussendorf, a survivor of and activist against prostitution, and Christine Scott, a CLA sophomore, also spoke to the audience, who cheered during the women’s speeches.
The Twin Cities B’Hai Youth Workshop performed a dance piece depicting a man and a woman in transition from an abusive relationship to one of individual renewal. The piece ended optimistically with the two performers dancing in unison.
There are two reasons for the rally, said assistant director of Program Against Sexual Violence Susanna Short. The main point is to draw attention to the issue of sexual violence against women. However, it’s also “a nice chance to get together with a lot of people who, by and large, are supportive of services like ours and active on these issues.”
University YWCA officials said sexual violence in abusive relationships usually involve power and privilege characteristics. For example, a majority of women in abusive relationships do not have control over their money or finances, said University YWCA program coordinator Anh Thu Pham.
“Their whole life is controlled by their partners,” said Pham. “We need to understand that and understand the dangers they’re in.”
Furthermore, cultural barriers influence the women who use women’s support centers. Because of the intertwining of community and family ties in a relationship, it is not always possible to make “a total clean break” from an abusive relationship, Pham said.
“They want the violence to end,” said Pham. “But they have very much more than a relationship with this man.”
While the rally started as an anti-rape rally in London in the 1970s, over the years it has expanded in geography and ideology into a rally against personal violence of any kind, said Cathy Hovancsak, president of the Twin Cities’ chapter of the National Organization of Women.
Although the focus of the march is all forms of violence against women, PASV officials said they also address issues of same-sex violence and violence against men and children. The rally is completely inclusive, said Terri Mazurek, a graduate student in the School of Social Work interning at PASV. “There has truly been a lot of people coming together.”
The rally has been held at the University on and off for a number of years, but this rally will be the third in a row, said Short. Hovancsak said the University’s effort fills a void in the Twin Cities since TC-NOW has no current plans to hold a Take Back the Night rally in the near future.
The goal of this year’s rally is to help people formulate plans for taking action, said Short.
“Whatever it means for each individual to say ‘sexual violence is wrong, it needs to stop and I need to have a part in that,'” she said.