Take Back the Night promotes voices of survivors, education in social justice

Natalia Sperry

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  • The rally “Take Back the Night” that has been held at CSU for over 20 years, was hosted by Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center as a part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 26th.

  • The rally “Take Back the Night” that has been held at CSU for over 20 years, was hosted by Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center as a part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 26th.

  • The rally “Take Back the Night” that has been held at CSU for over 20 years, was hosted by Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center as a part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 26th.

  • The rally “Take Back the Night” that has been held at CSU for over 20 years, was hosted by Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center as a part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 26th.

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the oval with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets near campus with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets near campus with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets of Old Town with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets of Old Town with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets of Old Town with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets of Old Town with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night march through the streets of Old Town with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night listen to a talk given by Lauren Cheif Elk. Elk talked about issues connected to sexual violence and institutions. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Lauren Cheif Elk speaks to participants of Take Back the Night. Elk talked about issues connected to sexual violence and institutions. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

  • Participants of Take Back the Night listen to a talk given by Lauren Cheif Elk. Elk talked about issues connected to sexual violence and institutions. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

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Through shared silence, stories and chants in the streets of Fort Collins, survivors and activists came together to stand against sexual violence and “take back the night” from oppressors on Thursday night.

The annual Take Back the Night event marked the end of the Women and Gender Advocacy Center’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month programming.

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The event began with a “speak out,” in which survivors were invited to publicly share their stories in the Lory Student Center Garden. Afterward, participants marched to Old Town square to hear the keynote speaker, Lauren Chief Elk.

During the “speak out,” several primary and secondary survivors shared stories of abuse, violence and journeys to recovery. 

The rally “Take Back the Night” that has been held at CSU for over 20 years, was hosted by the Campus Feminist Alliance with support from Colorado State University’s Women and Gender Advocacy Center as a part of the Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 26th.

Assistant Director of Victim Services for the WGAC Casey Malsam said the event offers a chance for survivors to hear that they are not alone.

“For survivors it is a chance for them to speak their story, to reject the silencing oppression of their trauma,” Malsam said. “Surviving interpersonal violence can often feel isolating and knowing that they aren’t the only one can aid in the healing process.”

Malsam said the “speak out” also encouraged those without trauma history to understand the deep impact an experience like this can have. 

“Hopefully, it will help them realign the victim-blaming messages our culture is so fond of pursuing,” Malsam said.

At the “speak out,” there was also a display of Colorado State University’s installation of the Clothesline Project, an international movement focused on raising awareness around interpersonal violence through art. The WGAC is the trustee of CSU’s installation, but students, faculty and staff have created the shirts over the years, Malsam said. 

T-shirts made by survivors of sexual abuse and interpersonal violence surrounded the LSC Sculpture Garden, with words ranging from quotes of remembrance to direct challenges against abusers.

“I am waiting for the day when violence against women will not be tolerated,” one T-shirt read. “I am not waiting quietly.” 

Participants of Take Back the Night march through the oval with signs expressing messages of solidarity with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

 

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After the “Speak Out,” keynote speaker Lauren Chief Elk, an indigenous organizer, researcher and educator who co-founded the Save Wiyabi project, spoke on the importance of rethinking the meanings of violence and justice in the fight against sexual violence.

Chief Elk said her experiences fighting violence against women as an advocate and legal aid have shaped her perspective on the criminal justice system and its often destructive role in the feminist movement and advocacy in particular.

“We don’t actually mass-incarcerate on sex crimes. We do not mass incarcerate on violence against women or children or anything interpersonally based,” Chief Elk said. “The criminal legal system not only just doesn’t take these things seriously, but actively works to cover up and allow this violence to happen.”

Chief Elk also said she advocates for prison abolition and believes that rethinking reliance on the current legal system is important to finding true justice.

In explaining the history of social justice since the Women’s Rights Movement and the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, Chief Elk also identified issues in the legal system and nonprofits, stating that while both can provide great resources for survivors, there is also backlash that harms marginalized communities in particular.

Participants of Take Back the Night listen to a talk given by Lauren Chief Elk. Elk talked about issues connected to sexual violence and institutions. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

“I think all of these things are very important in how we’re thinking about violence against women and really rethinking reliance on the system and what we mean when we’re talking here about justice,” Chief Elk said. 

In closing the event, WGAC Director Monica Rivera said she hoped the crowd will continue to pursue the type of social justice education Chief Elk presented during her keynote in order to become better activists.

“We learn about a problem, and then we often want to jump right to action. What that means when we skip the knowledge and awareness part, we usually step in it,” Rivera said. “By going through the knowledge and awareness phase, it really makes us better activists in the movement.”

Collegian reporter Natalia Sperry can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twiter @Natalia_Sperry.