Students protest sexual violence

by Dan Haugen

Gray skies and a soggy ground didn’t stop approximately 200 people from taking part in the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group’s fifth annual Take Back the Night celebration Thursday night.

Buses brought students and faculty from five college campuses to Boom Island Park in Minneapolis, where gatherers heard speeches by sexual violence survivors, advocates and master of ceremonies Leigh Combs, host of the longest-running homosexual radio program in the country, KFAI’s Thursday evenings.

“This is not just about violence against women,” Combs said. “It’s about violence against all people.”

As twilight set in, the group chanted and marched its way through downtown and into Loring Park.

Riding her bike alongside marchers, College of Liberal Arts junior Sara Lidstrom said she’s attended the rally the past couple of years but being jumped in Uptown last summer was a reminder violence still exists.

Other University students at the rally agreed.

“It’s not something that’s going away,” said CLA sophomore Sean Koebele, “and it’s important to show victims of violence that there are people who care.”

Megan Wolff, MPIRG event coordinator, said the rally traces back to 19th century London. Women at that time, she said, were unable to leave the house at night without male escorts. Frustrated with this dependence, a group of women organized a march through town that they called Take Back the Night.

Since 1978, the rally has been repeated and reinterpreted by dozens of grassroots
organizations across the United States. In Minnesota, the state chapter of the National Organization for Women organized Take Back the Night rallies for several years, Wolff said. When it stopped organizing them five years ago, MPIRG decided to pick up where NOW left off.

“We felt it was such an important event that it needed to continue,” Wolff said.

University police Capt. Steve Johnson said the number of criminal sexual conduct cases reported to the department has been relatively consistent for the past decade, averaging approximately 11 per year. The lowest total was in 1992, when seven reports were filed. The highest years were 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999, when 14 were reported.

But Johnson and others who work with sexual violence survivors on campus said statistics on the topic could be confusing and misleading.

Since 1993, when the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education started compiling statistics, it has averaged approximately 150 clients per year. Those clients include victims and concerned persons – friends or family members with inquiries on behalf of somebody else.

Aurora also assists with stalking and harassment, therapist exploitation and dating or domestic violence.

Legal advocacy and direct services coordinator Jen Marcks, who spoke at the rally, said many students turn to Aurora instead of the police. Some fear that if they file a police report, the legal process might get out of their control or the perpetrator might attempt retaliation.