More than 700 students, faculty, administrators and members of the Indiana community gathered to “shatter the silence” Wednesday in the annual Take Back the Night event at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
The event, hosted by The Haven Project, is a march through the IUP campus to show support for victims and survivors of sexual violence, and is part of an international movement to send the message that victims and survivors of these crimes should not live in fear.
Alisia Drew, an IUP student and graduate assistant of The Haven Project, said the event is one of The Haven Project’s biggest events of the year, and this year brought 722 participants. IUP, Drew said, has been participating in the event for more than 15 years.
The event began in Delaney Courtyard, where attendees equipped with posters, signs, T-shirts and their loudest shouting voices were initially addressed by U.S. Attorney and Indiana native David J. Hickton and IUP President Michael Driscoll.
“This event has gone across the country and all across the world, but nowhere is there a greater spirit, nowhere is there a greater commitment to protecting victims of sexual assault than right here in Indiana, Pennsylvania,” Hickton said.
Hickton addressed the issue of sexual violence throughout history and how it has evolved — mentioning the newest form of violence: cyberbullying.
Hickton said that it is the top priority of all combined law enforcement and officials, the federal government and the United States Attorney’s office to do “not only everything we can to prosecute these crimes, but to prevent them.”
TBTN and The Haven Project address the belief that women are often victimized because of the clothes they wear and similar factors.
“We are never going to accept that women need to be fearful,” Hickton said. “Women should be able to walk without fear and in recognition that all of us will stand together and never allow sexual assault to become the problem that it has been in the past.”
Driscoll said that as a university and as individuals, everyone has an obligation to create healthy and safe communities. He encouraged students to remember what they’ve done by coming to the event when they go forth in their lives.
“It’s an unfortunate fact that rape and those sort of tragic crimes are more prevalent than ever,” he said, stating that IUP is preparing students to become experts in crime prevention, counselors and victims advocates, and to do overall the things that, he said, make a community safer.
“My dream for IUP students is to send you off into communities where people feel secure ... where families can feel safe from predators they know or may not know,” he said, just before the march began.
While hundreds of students marched through campus chanting phrases like “1-2-3-4, this is what we’re fighting for, 5-6-7-8, no more violence, no more rape,” passers-by stopped to watch the action, on-campus residents opened their blinds and windows to see what was going on, and traffic was stopped on multiple streets.
The march continued into the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex’s PNC Room, where the turnout was so much larger than expected that marchers sat on the floor and stood near walls for a “Survivor Speak Out,” what The Haven Project considers to be “the heart of TBTN.”
The hourlong event, the program said, is designed to empower survivors and supporters to break the silence surrounding sexual violence.
Indiana District Attorney Patrick Dougherty and Cpl. Justin Schawl of the Indiana Borough Police Department gave opening remarks before survivors shared their anonymous, confidential stories.
“Every day in this country people are affected by domestic violence and sexual assault, Dougherty said. “It affects our friends, it affects our co-workers, it affects every facet of our lives.”
Dougherty held a moment of silence in memory of an IUP employee who lost his life “fighting the battle of domestic violence,” and shared statistics, including the fact that “in our community, one in five women will be raped at some point in their lives” and “one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.”
Schawl expressed to students the importance of remembering that the Indiana Police Department is available for students involved in violent situations.
“The issue is this: Although we’re here for you and work hard for you ... the issue is preventing (these crimes) in the first place,” Schawl said.
Sexual-assault survivors took turns sharing their stories, each of them creating a stir of emotions in the audience.
The event closed with featured speaker Diane Moyer, legal director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, sharing personal stories from college and the impact of alcohol on sexual assault, stating that 80 percent of sexual crimes happen when alcohol is involved. An important message that she and The Haven Project shared, however, is that intoxication cannot be used as justification.
“This is the start of something big,” Moyer said. “Each and every one of you understands what consent is ... what healthy relationships are.”
Moyer said that drinking and outfit choice are not an excuse for sexual assault.
“No outfit has ‘consent’ written on it,” she said.
“We live in a world that quietly accepts sexual violence and sometimes blatantly encourages rape culture,” said Drew, of The Haven Project. “Take Back the Night is one way to let all people know that we won’t tolerate violence on our campus and we don’t want to see it in our society, especially not in our community. … If one student walks away from Take Back the Night feeling empowered to take a stand against sexual violence, we did our job.”