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Take Back the Night Illuminates Stories of Sexual Assault Survivors

On Wednesday night, members of the Boston College community gathered on the O'Neill Quad to listen to the experiences of survivors of sexual violence at Take Back the Night.

Take Back the Night was originally planned as part of Concerned About Rape Education (CARE) Week, an annual week-long event organized by the Women's Center dedicated to raising awareness about sexual assault, rape, and intimate partner violence. Although CARE Week was in March, Take Back the Night was postponed due to inclement weather and rescheduled for Apr. 18.

This powerful event featured personal speeches from members of the Boston College community who are rape survivors. The passionate accounts left many in tears as they detailed the difficult healing process that follows incidences of sexual assault.

The first speaker was raped by a politician. The public figure made the survivor's quest for justice very difficult by threatening a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit. This testimony reflected how emotional trauma after an assault can oftentimes be worse than the physical act itself.

“It was traumatizing and degrading," another speaker described. "It felt as if I’d lost myself. I’ve had this desperate desire to regain a feeling of control, [of] agency.”

She consistently referred to how her assault left a “black hole” inside of her, one that could not be completely filled even if the perpetrator was held accountable. Although she demanded justice and achieved it to an extent, it did not feel like a victory. While she and her legal counsel sought expulsion, he was only suspended for one semester.

Instead, the speaker described how the process of true healing came as she began forgiving herself for the experience.

“After much reflection, counseling sessions, and late-night journaling, I realized that what I truly need at this time in my life is self-love and self-forgiveness," she said. "Although I recognize the anger towards my perpetrator, I realize that I am suppressing and ignoring the underlying anger towards myself.”

Another speaker emphasized overcoming the victimization of what had happened to her on the BC campus. Framing her speech as a direct letter to her attacker, she outlined the short and long-term effects of his actions.

She explained that calling herself a rape victim felt like a reduction of her whole identity; it minimized herself to one single incident. Speaking through tears, she described the deeply impactful process of overcoming rape.

“Being a victim means I am defined by what you did to me in that room," she said. "Being a survivor means I have been shaped and deeply impacted by that experience. But it does not come even close to encompassing who I am.”

All three described how they turned their experiences of assault into ones that allowed them to help others.

Friends and fellow advocates quickly surrounded each speaker when she left the podium. They basked in hugs and words of comfort while wiping away their tears. The event helped reduce stigma, shared honest accounts, and fostered solidarity while also providing resources for other victims to reach out to.

The speakers promoted the Women's Center resources of handling trauma, which they found helpful following their experiences.

The Women's Center, which is located on the 4th floor of Maloney, has many resources including on-site peer and professional counselors, the anonymous SANet helpline (617-552- 2211), and a short-term mental health service center in Gasson 001. Boston’s Rape Crisis Center (800-841- 8371) is another resource available to members of the community.

The event emphasized the need to recognize the responsibility of the attacker, not the victim, for the assault. It also advocated for calling out situations that may be problematic as valuable first steps to changing society.

The speakers suggested that when survivors and communities come together, rape culture can be systematically broken down. One speaker recognized the Me Too movement for giving her hope for the future where there is an end to the stigmatization and silencing of assaulted women.

Take Back the Night also featured performances from two a capella groups. The Sharps, the only all-female a capella group at Boston College, performed a powerful rendition of Kesha's "Praying," in which the soloist started with a throaty tenor and soared to a powerful voice at least an octave higher. The second group to perform was Black Experience in America Through Song (BEATS), who sang a soulful rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a message that reflected the power and strength the survivors who attended the event.

The event concluded with a solidarity march through campus, ending in front of Lower Dining Hall. Organizers distributed electric candles for marchers to leave along the path. At the end of the march, representatives of the Women’s Center thanked the attendees and expressed hope this event would mark the continuation, or beginning, of the activism against sexual violence.

As the first speaker concluded, “I [do] forget to advocate for myself. I need to forgive myself for that night. Healing is never a linear, it is a process that has its ups and downs.”