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Take Back the Day, Too

We Must All Pay Attention to Violence Against Women

By Katie H. Gibson and Adina H. Rosenbaum

Throughout the past few weeks, as we have discussed the Radcliffe Union of Students's Take Back the Night with friends and acquaintances, we have heard these words numerous times: "That type of thing doesn't happen here." We are astounded by how many Harvard students believe that violence against women is simply not an issue on this campus or in their lives.

If you are one of the 25% of women who is a survivor of rape or attempted rape or one of the 33% of young adults who has experienced violence in an intimate relationship, you know that violence exists. You have experienced the immediate physical and emotional injury of abuse and may bear lasting scars.

If you are one of the countless other women and men who has helped a friend deal with the turmoil following sexual or physical violence, you also know that violence affects Harvard students. You have held a crying friend, listened to her story and felt anger at your inability to make her pain disappear.

If you think that you do not know a single victim or survivor, you are probably wrong. Statistics suggest that if you know four women, you know a survivor. But if you are still certain that none of your friends has been a victim of violence against women, you should consider yourself extremely fortunate, for you are part of a tiny minority.

Women cannot escape the threat of violence. Even those who have not been the victim of assault or abuse live with the knowledge that it could happen to them someday. A steady relationship is not even a safe haven, for over four million women are battered by their partners, male or female, each year. On a day-to-day basis, the fear of violence determines what routes women take home from the library at night, what time they take their daily runs and to whom they give their name and number. It controls their choice of which apartment to rent in the summer, what time they leave a party and how well they sleep at night.

Men, too, are affected by violence against women. They have to live with the fear that someone close to them will be assaulted and that they are to prevent such an attack. Moreover, we can only imagine what it feels like to be a man who notices a woman crossing the street out of fear when she sees him coming toward her.

We have just described many ways in which attacks and the threat of assault affect our actions and the lives of those around us. But all of these restrictions are just some of the results of the culture of violence in which we live. The violence in our culture affects how we, as women, view our bodies. It tells us how we should behave in relationships and what to expect from our partners. It affects our sexual and reproductive choices. In the broadest sense, it limits our options and aspirations.

Because violence against women has such a profound impact on all of our lives, we are all responsible for ending it. We must all strive not to perpetrate violence and we must teach those around us how to recognize the effects of violence on our lives.

Raising awareness is one of the main goals of Take Back the Night. This year, more than 20 student groups sponsored workshops, panels, speakers and films to teach us about the multiple forms and effects of violence against women. Today marks the last day in our week of events to promote awareness of violence against women, but it should not mean the end of our struggle. We consider this year's Take Back the Night to have been a great success, but one week of education cannot make up for all the years we have been socialized in a culture of violence.

It is crucial to provide both women and men with the resources and knowledge of how to deal with the effects of violent acts. It is not enough, however, to be educated only about the aftermath of violence. We must examine the causes and search for ways to prevent violence from happening in the first place. A speaker from a battered women's shelter told us on Wednesday that she would love to put herself out of a job by ending the need for services to help abused women. We echo her sentiments; we hope that people will leave Take Back the Night week with a desire to rid our society of violence against women and ideas about where to begin. It is our goal, too, that Take Back the Night become unnecessary.

Katie H. Gibson '99 and Adina H. Rosenbaum '98 live in Quincy House.

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