You might not believe it, but you know someone who has been sexually assaulted. In fact, you probably know more than one person that has been sexually assaulted. These statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) may convince you that sexual assault is a serious issue:

  • 1 in 6 women will be assaulted during her lifetime.
  • 1 in 33 men will be sexually assaulted in his lifetime.
  • 80% of victims are under 30 years old
  • 2/3 of all those raped knew their attacker.
  • Sexual assault is one of the most under reported crimes. 60% of sexual assaults go unreported.

These unfortunate facts expose the prevalence of sexual assault at a national level, but Winona State is not immune. Assaults happen here, as at all other universities. You might find these facts surprising, and that is due to the lack of dialogue about the realities of sexual assault and rape. Many sexual assault victims do not talk about what has happened to them partly because we live in a rape culture.  In America,  we are surrounded with everyday phenomena such as images, language and even laws that validate and perpetuate rape. For example, rape and sexual violence is eroticized in film and rape is a joke punch line in adult cartoon comedies on TV. This type of culture makes it difficult for victims to speak up for fear of being blamed, for fear being an object of gossip and rumors, for fear of no one believing them.

Survivors of sexual assault should not be silenced. They should not be blamed, stigmatized, marginalized or ignored. Survivors should demand that their voices and their stories are heard. Winona State University is ensuring that this happens.On Tuesday, April 22 at 6:00 pm in the Student Activities Center, FORGE, the Women’s Resource Center and WSU’s Gender-Violence Hotline will be hosting Winona’s annual  Take Back The Night, a national event for sexual assault victims and people who know them to speak out against sexual assault by telling their own stories.

This is the fourth Take Back the Night that I have planned and attended, and each time it is equally as powerful and emotional. The speak out is pretty informal, beginning with the sponsors speaking about the resources the provide to help the community face this social epidemic. Then the floor is opened for anyone in the audience to approach the podium and speak about anything concerning sexual assault and rape. Some people tell their stories, other people offer their support, some point out the strength and inspiration they have felt by witnessing speaker’s vulnerability, strength and honesty. Some people don’t speak at all, but rather watch, witnessing and offering their presence in support of recovery and ending rape culture.

There will be many advocates in attendance to assist if someone is triggered, feels they need help or has a question.Take Back The Night is a Safe Space where all are welcome and expected to attend with respect of others. There is no right or wrong way to participate at Take Back the Night. I read original poems at last year’s Take Back the Night. You can read something you found or wrote, say how you feel, tell your story or sing a song. There are no rules for expression.

If you choose not to speak in front of the crowd, your presence and thoughts are still very valuable. There will be an integrative art project at the entrance of Take Back the Night, where people have other opportunities and mediums to express themselves and their stories. It is important that all voices are heard, all stories are told. The event is about not accepting the silence that is expected of a rape culture. It is a stand against silence and darkness that our culture casts on sexual violence. After the speak out, the Take Back The Night event takes it to the Winona streets. There will be a march around Winona with chants, signs and verbal affirmations of a commitment to end gender violence. It takes the event out into the community to generate attention, as well as the refusal to stay silent about sexual violence.

Take Back The Night gives a voice back to victims. It ensures that victims will be heard. It shows victims and survivors that there is a community of people who demand justice for all. Coming together for this cause, no matter if you have a personal experience or not generates momentum of addressing sexual assault on our campus and across our nation.

Sexual assault is not simply a local issue; it’s a global issue. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Help end sexual violence.

P.S. If you are still not convinced that this is an issue, here is a recent poem making rounds on the internet that speaks to why we need to continue speaking up about rape.