Fresno State students march in solidarity against sexual assault for Take Back the Night on Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. (Khone Saysamongdy/The Collegian)

Students rally to Take Back the Night

The Fresno State Women’s Alliance held the 37th annual Take Back the Night event in the Free Speech Area Wednesday night in which students, faculty and community groups partnered to raise awareness of the harms of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking.

“One in seven women and one in 18 men have been stalked by an intimate partner during their lifetime to the point in which they felt fearful that they or someone close to them would be harmed,” according to a statistic written on a candlelit white paper bag.

Take Back the Night was organized into segments, starting with an informational fair where student and community organizations provided information regarding their programs.

Among the booths were the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, Women’s Alliance, Planned Parenthood, Marjaree Mason Center and RCS Fresno – a rape crisis center.

Rosa Huerta, a senior at Fresno State and an intern for RCS Fresno, said the goal of the confidential crisis line is to support victims.

“Our mission is to work to end rape and sexual violence and empower survivors while supporting safe and consensual relationships,” Huerta said.

The night continued with a performance by the Raging Grannies. The women sang a satirical original piece titled “Legitimate Rape.” The song spoke out about the effect of rape culture on women.

Presentations followed the performance starting with Fresno State student and Women’s Alliance president Ashley Juskalian.

“We live in a place where the questions asked are: ‘Why did you wear that if you didn’t want to be raped?’ ‘Why didn’t you fight back?’ When the questions that should be asked are: ‘Why did you abuse your partner?’ ‘Why did you act without consent?’” Juskalian said.

She also spoke out on the university’s lack of staffing to handle Title IX infractions.

“This is an insult to our humanity, our sanity and our safety,” she said. “And I have to ask you guys: do you feel safe knowing that you have one employee stretched far too thin in charge of handling every injustice on this campus, every result of discrimination, misogyny and toxic masculinity? I know I don’t,” she said.

Following Juskalian’s address, Dr. Lisa Risch, confidential victim advocate for the Student Health and Counseling Center, identified the resources available to students who are suffering from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, such as academic accommodations and medical care.

Survivor and keynote speaker from the national Take Back the Night organization, Kelly Vrooman, addressed the night’s overall objective to “Know Your IX,” clarifying all misguided ideas about Title IX.

“It got rid of sexual discrimination due to sex, but it also set into place ways for us to hold universities and any sort of organization that takes on federal funding accountable to eliminate sexual harassment, sexual violence and eliminate any sort of retaliation to those who speak out against those things,” Vrooman said. “Sexual assault can happen from girl to guy, guy to girl, girl to girl, guy to guy, and anybody who doesn’t necessarily identify as a specific gender,” she said.

Vrooman shared a testimony of her own experience of domestic abuse from a violent partner.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever been swimming, when you go down to the bottom of a pool and you wait down there a little too long, and then you think, ‘Oh I need air, better push up,’ and you make it up to the top with barely enough time to get air,” Vrooman said. “That’s how it felt, except there was no surface to the water. I couldn’t get up, and everything started to go black.”

Having witnessed her former partner be abused by his father, been the victim of abuse by that same partner and remained silent about it, Vrooman’s biggest wish is to encourage those around her to speak out and break the silence.

“If we don’t break the silence, then we don’t have a chance at stopping the violence,” she said.

The evening concluded with a candlelit vigil followed by a march around campus as students held up signs and chanted to reclaim the night for safety.

For Jessica Adams, coordinator for the Cross Cultural and Gender Center, the goal of the night was to inspire activism beyond a designated date and time.

“Take back the night is an event that happens on one night, but this is an issue that happens 365 days a year,” Adams said. “We can’t end our activism with one night.”

Women’s Alliance partnered with the Marjaree Mason Center by passing out purple ribbons to recognize the national movement for Domestic Violence Awareness month. Students, staff and faculty are encouraged to wear purple on Thursday and use the hashtag #PurpleThursday to show their support.