Today marks the high point of Take Back the Night (TBTN) week, five days of events focusing attention to gender-based violence on this campus and the rest of the world. TBTN concentrates on supporting the survivors of physical and sexual violence within our community while additionally providing, for survivors and others who care about violence towards women, a network by which to share information, support and strategies for change. In a literal sense, TBTN calls for women to be able to claim the safety of the night, but more fundamentally, it is also a way for survivors to give shape to the silences that carry so much weight in their lives.
In previous years, this second goal was carried forth in a rally, which will again take place tonight. The rally is a unique chance for people to publicly own and testify to their experiences with a community of supporters to help them bear and give witness to the pain. As special as this rally is--and it is indeed special, as there are too few opportunities on this campus for survivors of violence to receive the love and care of a large group of their peers--we must also recognize the limitations of the TBTN rally. We cannot be lured into thinking that the experiences and pain that people speak about during the rally do not exist before TBTN, nor can we think that they will end right after the rally. We need to sustain the energy from TBTN after this week to keep on solving the problems that are highlighted; and for the people who speak, we need to sustain the network of support that they have encountered.
Despite the widespread problem of sexual and physical violence (studies have shown that approximately one-fourth of college women will be the survivors of rape or attempted rape by the time that they graduate), it is very difficult for survivors to find one another. There are many reasons for this difficulty. For one, it is impossible to see who a survivor is; there is no visible marker of membership for a group of survivors. Also, issues of confidentiality preclude mental health professionals from disclosing survivors' identities and friends of survivors rightly do not want to betray their friends' confidence. Moreover, it is difficult for survivors themselves to reveal their experiences. It is hard to know what the reactions of friends and acquaintances will be; disclosure always requires emotional effort; and it takes time for survivors themselves to come to terms with their experiences.
Unfortunately, too often survivors go it alone in their struggle to define and live with their experiences. As Susan Estrich, a rape survivor and a graduate of our law school, wrote in her book, Real Rape, "At first, being raped is something you simply don't talk about. Then it occurs to you that people whose houses are broken into or who are mugged in Central Park talk about it all the time…And so I mention it. I mention it in my classes. I describe it here…In writing about rape, I am writing about my own life. I don't think I know a single woman who does not live with some fear of being raped. A few of us--more than a few, really--live with our own histories."
To that end, we need to continue the work and conversations of TBTN through a network of and for survivors of sexual and physical violence. Only then can we continue our lives within a supportive community, not alone.
Rabia S. Belt '01-'02 is a social studies concentrator in Adams House. There will be a meeting tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Bureau of Study Counsel for survivors of physical and sexual violence.
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