Section: Opinion

Take Back The Night gave survivors a necessary space for healing and advocacy

It may appear that Take Back the Night has disappeared without a fight, but that is only because those against it ending have been silenced.

Take Back the Night (TBTN), a week-long series of events dedicated to education and prevention of sexual assault and relationship violence, was canceled this year due to worries that it triggered the survivor population. A recent opinions piece published in the Collegian on Sept. 29 (“Elimination of Take Back The Night will benefit survivors”) touted the end of TBTN on Kenyon’s campus as a victory for survivors, who often struggle with trauma-related difficulties during this week. At first glance, it appears that the entire community supports the end of TBTN. This conclusion is far from the truth.

The first sign of disdain for the decision to cancel TBTN was a Letter to the Editor by Vernon James Schubel, professor of religious studies, who has participated in TBTN since his time in graduate school. “I do not mean to minimize the reality of PTSD among survivors,” he explained in the letter. “But to argue, as some have, that public action against gender violence is unacceptable because it triggers survivors is deeply problematic.”

I completely agree, and I am not alone. There is a large segment of the survivor population that heals and advocates for sexual assault awareness by engaging in public discourse. We are afraid, which is why you haven’t heard from us. We are afraid to raise our voices and protest the end of TBTN, knowing the brutal backlash and emotional abuse that will come with voicing this opinion. We are afraid of the resulting name-calling and isolation. Although I consider myself a relatively unemotional person, I distinctly remember sitting on the floor in a Peirce Hall bathroom, sobbing, after being verbally accosted and denounced by multiple survivors for my efforts to open dialogue about assault. In tandem with other survivors, I had tried to create safe spaces through sit-ins, events and discussions for those of us who wished to raise awareness about assault, to tell our stories and be heard. As a result, I was labeled by some as an “insensitive bitch,” “selfish asshole” and other choice terms.   

Although I have continued to discuss the issue of sexual assault on social media, I have since ceased to express my opinion in campus-wide settings, fearing brutal scrutiny. The end of TBTN, however, is far too important for me to remain silent. Since the end of this event, a large segment of the survivor population has been stifled and quieted. A multitude of survivors — some anonymous — have expressed their displeasure to me, but they fear making their sentiment known to a wider population.

TBTN should be reinstated, in addition to other modes of public discourse about sexual assault on campus. Sensitivity and advocacy need not be mutually exclusive. We can provide ample trigger warnings and minimize the amount of TBTN posters and advertisements around campus, in exchange for providing survivors who wish to speak out with the forum they desire. I stand in solidarity with all survivors, but there are ways to address this complex issue without disregarding any segments of the survivor population.

Hayley Yussman ’18 is an English and political science major from River Forest, Ill. Contact her at yussmanh@kenyon.edu.         

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