Hundreds of USF students participated in the annual event that brings attention to sexual violence.
By Melissa Wolfe
TAMPA, Fla. (April 19, 2013) – The students – hundreds in number and carrying signs with slogans like “No Means No!” and “Real Men Get Consent!” – marched silently through the heart of the University of South Florida campus in an empowering show of strength against sexual violence.
Take Back the Night, an annual event hosted by social justice organization N.I.T.E (Network. Improve. Transform. Empower.), invited survivors and allies to stand together, march together, and speak out together against the often untold horrors of sexual violence.
“It’s not just a woman’s issue,” said Elizabeth Moschella, president of N.I.T.E. “It’s everyone’s issue. Almost everyone knows someone who’s been victimized or is a survivor. One in four women will be victimized during their college years.”
Michelle Hughes Miller, an associate professor in Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies at USF, launched TBTN Tuesday evening with an impassioned plea for men and woman to break the silence on violence.
“We can change this,” said Miller. “We can keep the knowledge of our power to affect change in our hearts everyday. We can act on that knowledge everyday. Together we can prevent, we can educate, we can change. We can march our way across this campus and to a realization that together we can do something… we can implement change.”
Following Miller’s speech, Ryan Newton, the USF assistant director of Orientation, asked the men in the audience to stand and take the REAL (Relationship Equality and Anti-violence League) Men’s Promise. In voices that echoed around the Marshall Center Amphitheater, more than 50 men pledged aloud to obtain enthusiastic consent for their sexual partners, promote gender equality, and “become part of the solution to end sexual and relationship violence”.
As night fell around them, dozens of survivors and allies from the audience filed onstage to participate in the event’s cathartic climax, the Speak Out. The Speak Out offers an outlet for survivors to share their story and experiences, for better or for worse.
As more than half of all sexual assaults remain unreported, many women shared their stories aloud for the very first time – sometimes in whispered words, often with tears, and mostly concluding in the empowerment that comes with liberation from fear and suppression.
“I am a survivor of sexual violence,” said Moschella. “For me, sharing my story and being able to help others is a way to let him know that he did not defeat me.”
Take Back the Night concluded with a violin rendition of “Stand By Me” by Hiram Rios, a student who said TBTN had a special place in his heart.
“People don’t understand how inspiring an event like this can be,” said Rios. “I’m chose ‘Stand By Me’ because it’s an uplifting piece that brings everyone together and that’s how we want to end the night.”