Anti-rape rally unites campus, community

by V. Paul

With Tracy Chapman concertgoers cheering on one side of Hennepin Avenue, and late-arriving “Fosse” dance fans curiously staring on the other, a blocklong parade of anti-sexual violence activists chanted “Sexist, Racist, Anti-Gay … You can’t take our night away.”
More than 200 people marched through downtown Minneapolis on Wednesday night, in what has been dubbed the return of the citywide “Take Back the Night” rally.
Six college campuses under the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group and numerous community organizations, including the University’s Program Against Sexual Violence, participated in the rally.
The annual event serves as a symbolic gesture to survivors of sexual violence — a calling that they are not alone, said Kirsten Johnson, MPIRG co-chairwoman and a University women’s studies sophomore.
“I’m here because women have been oppressed long enough and because people need to be aware,” said Nicole German, a Hamline University freshman who trekked from Boom Island to Loring Park in the unusually cold spring night.
But it also is a major night for anti-sexual and domestic violence organizations and individuals to network and share resources. In many ways, the yearly event serves the same purpose as an annual general meeting for a corporation; it helps keep the group on course and moving forward.
“Events like this make legislation easier to pass — legislation that protects women, that combats sexual violence,” said Jackie Nguyen, a recent University graduate who worked on the last two rallies for the sexual-violence program.
A House bill that would set up a state director of domestic-violence and sexual-assault prevention and establish an interagency task force on sexual-assault prevention is sitting on Gov. Jesse Ventura’s desk, waiting for his signature that is expected today.
One of the bill’s primary authors, Sen. Ember Reichgott Junge, DFL-New Hope, was one of the featured rally speakers at Loring Park, along with Bonnie Clairmont, who works with the Ramsey County Sexual Offense Services.
“This is a major step forward. For the first time, we will have someone in charge of enforcing the laws of violence against women,” Junge said. “An event like this allows us to raise our voice in support of reducing violence against women, and those voices were heard here at the Legislature.”
Nationwide issue leaves local footprints
On campus, University Police reported three incidents of criminal sexual conduct and five other sex offenses since 1999. Though relatively low in number, incidents of sexual violence are vastly underreported because of the stigma that victims associate with the crime.
The Program Against Sexual Violence provided services to 135 victims since July 1999. Of the complaints, acquaintance sexual assault, dating and domestic violence, and stalking topped the list, comprising 83 of the reported cases on campus.
And while University Police only recorded one incident of criminal sexual conduct in March, the program lists 13 incidents of its top three complaints in that same period.
Nationally, for every 1,000 people over the age of 12 in 1998, there were two sexual assaults, according to U.S. Department of Justice reports.
“The idea of ‘Take Back the Night’ is to make a large statement to the community and for the community. This is not an issue that only affects students and that doesn’t only concern students,” Johnson said. “It’s important to make it an issue that can be talked about. When it becomes something we can face, then it can be dealt with.”
One night gained for all those lost
“Take Back the Night” started in London as an anti-rape rally nearly 20 years ago, but has since become an event against all forms of violence. In the Twin Cities, a citywide event used to be held by the state chapter of the National Organization of Women.
In the place of a large event, smaller neighborhood rallies have sprung up since the early 1990s, including the one held at the University. Each year, the Program Against Sexual Violence held a spring rally while MPIRG held one in the fall. This year, the two events combined in the spring to take advantage of the warmer weather, organizers said.
The evening started with speeches by sexual-violence survivors. Rowena Hicks, a crime-prevention specialist with the Minneapolis Police Department, advocated intervention by others in the life of someone living in high-abuse potential conditions.
Jena Henson, a Hamline University residence-hall coordinator, read a poem about her abuse experiences before explaining how her life was turned around by her college counselors. She now works with college students in the same situation.
“I was a victim. I was raped. I am a survivor,” she said.
The sentiment of carrying on the battle was shared by the rallyists, clutching their signs in the cold, huddling close to stay warm.
“It marks another year that (the survivors) have gone ahead with their lives,” Nguyen said. “It helps them fight whatever demons may be in their closet.”

V. Paul Virtucio welcomes comments at [email protected]