Students and faculty raise awareness for sexual assault

Students and faculty gathered in solidarity Tuesday inside the Memorial Student Center to raise awareness for sexual violence, listen to survivors share stories and literature and march on Marshall University’s campus in an effort to Take Back the Night.

Take Back the Night is an event where people gather to raise awareness and fight sexual violence in their communities. Tuesday’s event marks the fourth year the event was held on campus.

“The students have really learned about the event this year and it is great to see them,” Dawn Goel, associate professor of psychology and Women’s Studies Advisory Board member said.

Roughly 50 students were in attendance. Goel said the kind of support that Take Back the Night gives survivors can mean the world to someone who has experienced assault or violence.

“I think it provides a great network for people to meet other individuals who have become victims of sexual assault and for them to see that they’re not alone,” Goel said. “They’re not alone in their fight, they’re not alone in the struggle, they’re not alone in working to overcome this. Now they know five other people who have gone through something very similar and they can share those experiences with one another.”

According to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, only 344 rapes out of 1,000 are reported to law enforcement. Out of those 344 cases, only six rapists end up incarcerated after a fair and speedy trial. Goel said she thinks one of the most powerful things about Take Back the Night is that it may provide a survivor the courage to speak out about their experiences after seeing others who have been in the same situation be vocal about it.

Marshall University President Jerry Gilbert was in attendance to open the Take Back the Night event.

“My administration is indebted to having a campus free of sexual assault,” Gilbert said. Gilbert stated the university would have “zero tolerance” for sexual assault, and ensured that in cases where a matter of sexual violence must be dealt with by the administration that Gilbert and his constituents would “treat everyone fairly” while making sure “justice was served.”

Goel said one of the things she admires the most about Take Back the Night is that it is not necessarily limited to one specific range of students or faculty.

“I contacted a couple of friends of mine in the English department and asked them to get readers together, and I contacted a couple of friends who play music and asked them to get the music together, and I contacted a few people who are very artsy to get signs together, so it’s just nice that it takes on its own form,” Goel said. “Everyone is just interested in seeing it get going.”

Students picked up signs made by Take Back the Night students and volunteers and marched on campus. Students and faculty marched from the MSC to the on-campus dorms and down Fifth Avenue, chanting anti-sexual assault mantras before returning to the MSC plaza for a candlelight vigil.

In terms of solidarity and support, director of the Women’s Center Leah Tolliver said there are many opportunities for students and community members to support each other.

“We have an educational program we are initiating for incoming students and certain groups to be able to generate support around bystander intervention through the Green Dot Program,” Tolliver said.

Tolliver said the program gets its name from the use of red dots on maps to symbolize an area where an act of violence has taken place. She said the idea is to replace those red dots with green ones, to symbolize an area coming together and causing a good change.

“We are training people how to intervene when they hear or see something that could potentially lead to a ‘red dot,’” Tolliver said. “When you are thinking of sexual assault, typically you are thinking of a rape in progress, but there are things leading up to it that we can intervene on.”

Tolliver said the potential for a bad situation is ever present in the college community, specifically parties. These moments before a bad situation can happen in different shapes and sizes, including people pushing others to drink, or trying to isolate them to get them into a one-on-one situation, where they may be the weaker party.

“There really is nobody but us to intervene,” Tolliver said. “Not everybody has to do everything. It feels very overwhelming to think you have to stop all the violence that happens, but everybody has to do something. And that something depends on what you’re comfortable doing.”

The Green Dot Program trains students and staff members to intervene in potentially bad situations in several different forms.

“You could go up to the person who may be the antagonizer and ask what’s going on directly,” Tolliver said. “Or you could go up to the person who may be in danger and make sure they’re okay, take them away and talk to them, maybe get a sense that you were wrong and everything is fine. You were uncomfortable for a reason and it’s okay to try and figure out why.”

Tolliver said delegating someone to intervene on someone’s behalf who may not be comfortable with confrontation is a good way to potentially save someone from being assaulted. Tolliver said another tactic would be to distract the potential assaulter.

“You could say ‘I think someone is towing your car,’” Tolliver said. “We look at the three D’s — directly intervening, deterring and distraction.”

Tolliver said the ultimate goal of the various programs the Women’s Center deploys is to eradicate sexual violence as a whole.

“Risk reduction puts a lot of onus on the potential victim, and we’ve been doing that for years, and really that has had no effect,” Tolliver said. “This [sexual violence] is a societal issue. This is violence in general. These types of behaviors are something we really need to address as a society, as a campus, as a community. We use bystander intervention tactics to really address the issue and hopefully reduce and eliminate violence.”

Representatives from the Contact Rape Crisis Center, Branches Domestic Violence Shelter and the Marshall University Psychology Clinic were available to speak to anyone who may have needed their services at any point during the night.

Take Back the Night was held in part by the Women’s Center, Women’s Studies psychology, English, sociology, anthropology and other organizations within the university and community.

William Izzo can be contacted at [email protected].