Student Group Attempts to 'Take Back the Night'





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For UC Berkeley sophomore Jennifer Stark, it took a real-life incident - in the form of the gang rape of one of her best friends in a university dorm - to show her the reality and prevalence of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Her friend's experience helped her to see the importance of education and awareness of the issue.

"It was such a textbook example, and despite everything that I learned, I felt so powerless because there was nothing I could to do help her," Stark says. "I decided at that moment that I wasn't going to let this happen anymore. I wasn't going to stand back and discuss; I was going to do something and make things happen."

A group of UC Berkeley students have decided to try to dedicate their time to Take Back the Night - an organization designed to speak out against sexual assault and domestic violence and to provide the understanding pairs of ears to those who want to talk.

Since her decision to become involved in Take Back the Night, Stark says she feels she is able to educate herself and others as well.

"I suddenly became so much more aware of the world around me and picked up on things," she says. "I noticed a change in myself and through that I felt I could change others. It's truly an eye-opener."

Statistics show that one in four women will become victims of rape or attempted rape, but the issue remains predominately unspoken and undiscussed, organization coordinators say.

Because most people do not feel comfortable discussing the issue, they do not realize how large a problem it really is, they add.

"The danger is how serious and common it is," says junior Angeles Rios, another group coordinator. "We want to show how to deal with it, how to talk with a friend. The best way to educate others is to educate yourself. It's like a networking process."

Members aim to provide a comfortable setting to discuss the sensitive subject matter that many find difficult to talk about. By speaking out, victims help themselves cope with their struggles and at the same time, educate those who are listening.

The Take Back the Night group is not so much a place for victims to vent anger and frustration as it is an open forum for students on campus to speak out about personal experiences. By sharing experiences, organizers hope to draw others in to increase awareness and education about sexual assault.

"The more you learn, the more you can teach others," Stark says.

Coordinators aim to provide a safe place for people to discuss these issues.

Each spring, the organization puts on its annual Take Back the Night march and rally - its largest event of the year.

The rally, scheduled to take place in April, is a time where UC Berkeley students and community members gather on campus to take part in activities designed to increase sexual assault and domestic violence awareness.

Students can speak out about their experiences, share stories and recite personal poems and monologues. In addition, organizers put together visuals and a candlelight vigil.

The number of students who attend the rally varies from year to year, but typically falls into the range of hundreds, coordinators say. Last year, approximately 400 students gathered in Sproul Plaza to attend the rally and campus march. Similar marches and rallies take place on campuses

nationwide.

For those who would rather not express their emotions through words, coordinators also hold a flower dedication on the night of the rally where people can take a flower and dedicate it to a friend or family member themselves.

"It's really, really beautiful," Stark says. "Through that

means, people who don't feel comfortable sharing through the open mike can get up and share their story. It's extremely healing."

Take Back the Night began in San Francisco, more than 20 years ago, as a large rally and march. Organizers decided to hold it at night, which was often a time of danger and fear for many women.

"They had a rally at night in order to reclaim the night so that it would be a way of dealing with a lot of these issues, and in many ways alleviating and assuaging the pain," Stark says.

Since the original San Francisco march, a number of Take Back the Night chapters have emerged in cities and college campuses throughout the nation. The focus of most of the chapters is to put on the annual rally and march and provide a safe place for victims, as well as to raise awareness.

In addition to organizing the annual rally, the UC Berkeley chapter tries to raise awareness throughout the entire year, through a number of different on-campus events.

"It'd be nice to believe that the rally and march would do enough for the entire year, but it's not the reality," Stark says.

Members hold monthly gatherings called Voices of the Night, which consist of open microphones for anyone interested to use.

With the only requirement being a desire to express themselves, students come to these monthly Voices of the Night forums to sing, read poems, play instruments, perform monologues and freely talk about anything that they want.

"On a monthly basis, people can talk about sex or anything - it doesn't have to relate to sexual assault," Rios says. "It's a time where people can freely, openly and comfortably express their emotions about anything."

Coordinators say they feel opportunities to express emotions through nights such as Voices of the Night are important because students cannot always find any other place to comfortably express themselves.

In addition, the nights provide an excellent opportunity for students to learn and hear about other students whose lives may be very different from their own, organizers say.

"It's a safe place for someone to come perform what they want, be accepted, be supported," Stark says. "It's an intimate setting and people come from all over; people who don't come to regular meetings are regulars at open mike. It's amazing. It's inspiring. It's nice to be exposed to all different genres that make you think equally."

Occasional dating workshops that focus on issues of gender and violence are held in residence halls throughout the year and attract both men and women. The group also organizes workshops that teach how to respond to a friend who discloses they have been sexually assaulted or violated.

"I was really surprised and it was awesome to see that half of the people were men," Rios says. "Dating workshops appealed to men. A lot of people had fun."

Because members of Take Back the Night are predominantly women, some people carry the false notion that the organization is for women only. This is clearly not the situation, members say.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times, guys feel attacked as if they're the ones being blamed," Stark says. "But that's not what it's about. It's about reclaiming the night in a sense of making it a safe place. We're protesting not a gender, but protesting the fact that you can walk down the street and not feel safe."

She adds, "We try to extend to both women and men and to people of all different backgrounds, recognizing that sexual assault and domestic violence don't plague just one part of society."

Take Back the Night is a group where men and women alike open up and speak honestly about their personal experiences with sexuality.

Although the majority of those active in Take Back the Night are women, a significant number of males also participate. Males are victims of sexual assault as well, coordinators say.

"It isn't anti-male at all," Rios says. "Both men and women are affected by the situation. Statistics show that men also get abused."

Members of Take Back the Night also reach out beyond the UC Berkeley campus and into the community by working with Berkeley High School students as lecturers and supplementary teachers in a women's studies class on the high school campus.

This semester, Take Back the Night has also taken the form of a DE-Cal class on campus designed to make club members more active.

Although the group meets on Tuesday afternoons, those who cannot make it to the meetings are welcome to be actively involved with the group.

The group also provides information on drugs and passes out pamphlets on women's shelters in the United States and also the phone numbers of hotlines women can call if they are in trouble.

Members often table on Sproul Plaza and pass out information about services provided by the Tang Center, statistics on violence and safety on campus.

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