“What woman has not felt anxiety walking alone at night?”
With that question, University of Denver students, staff and friends kicked off this year’s Take Back the Night rally on the DU campus Wednesday evening.
Designed to raise awareness of crimes against women, domestic violence and sexual/gender/identity violence of all kinds, the rally brought heart-rending stories to life, and brought life-affirming stories to some who maybe needed to hear them.
“I went to my first Take Back the Night about a hundred years ago, when I was in college,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet.
“It’s easy for me to be here,” he said. “I have three little girls at home that I don’t get to see nearly enough.”
Bennet said Congress’s seeming preoccupation with Planned Parenthood was misguided at best.
He recalled campaigning partly on a platform of reproductive choice and said people questioned why he talked about something that didn’t seem to be much of an issue to most people.
First thing back in the Senate, he said, fellow members ramped up efforts to limit choice.
“Most people don’t want the government to tell them how to live their life,” he said, adding that most people want Planned Parenthood and other programs offering women’s health care kept above the fray and safe from political attack.
He urged the women in the audience to “keep each other safe.”
Besides Bennet, Denver city council candidate Robin Kniech also attended, but did not speak. Bennet did not endorse anyone in the council or mayor’s race but did urge everyone to vote, calling it a duty.
Of course, the event was not about Bennet, who did not announce the appearance or invite the media. It was not about politics. It was about the fact that in 2011, in Colorado, many people, especially women, still have reason to fear if walking across campus at night, if walking through town at night, if going home to someone who isn’t that welcoming.
It was chance to tell stories of pain and of redemption. It was a chance for hugs and offers of support.
One woman told stories of a childhood marred by rape and abuse from family members–and an adulthood marred by the insistence from family members that “that is just what boys do”, that “it wasn’t so bad. Don’t make a big deal out of it.”
“To this day, there are people in my family who think my uncle did nothing wrong.”
With tears welling, she looked at the crowd gathered outside on a cold night, and said, “As girls, we do not need to just accept it.”
A member of the faculty said he had attended last year as an audience member and was struck by the fact he was the only member of the faculty in attendance. It struck him as wrong, he said, adding that faculty need to be outspoken in support of victims and potential victims.
“As a man,” he said, “it is easy to be complacent.”
He told of female students coming into his office and talking about having been raped. “Ostensibly they are there to talk about their writing, but…
“We all know these people,” he added.
Another man pointed out it is up to men to change their ways, up to men to tell their friends that sexual abuse in any form is wrong and can’t be tolerated. “Let’s face it,” he said, “most of the offenders are men. Men can end this.”
One woman told a harrowing tale of being in Fort Lauderdale on spring break five years ago and becoming separated from her friends at 3 am in what seemed like a dangerous part of town. She called a friend seeking advice. The friend told her to call 9-11. She did, and the police officer raped her.
For months after the rape, she recounted, she was out of it. She moved back in with her parents, needing help even with simple tasks of personal hygiene.
Finally, she said, she began going to therapy. The therapist told her she would grow from this. “I thought they were full of shit. But I learned to love myself. I learned to be with myself again. I am a stronger person today.”
While she said she wouldn’t wish her experience on anyone else, “it
made me who I am today.”