Taking a stand against sexual assault and violence, survivors, students, and faculty gathered in solidarity Wednesday night on O’Neill Plaza during the Boston College Women’s Center’s annual “Take Back the Night” event. The event was the centerpiece of Concerned About Rape Education (CARE) Week, an awareness and advocacy campaign held by the Women’s Center each year.
The event created a safe space for survivors to reclaim their experiences while surrounded by people exhibiting solidarity. Four survivors told four very different stories, underscoring that no two sexual assaults or acts of violence are the same.
Lisa Edouard, the graduate assistant for the Sexual Assault Network (SANet) at the Women’s Center, opened the event. She described Take Back the Night as an opportunity “to reflect, heal, and advocate for change.”
Edouard spoke about the history and impact of the Take Back the Night organization, which is rooted in international protests against sexual violence. Started in Europe, Take Back the Night began holding events in the United States throughout the late 1960s, and has since held hundreds of walks, conferences, and educational events around the world.
“In this moment, we are enacting change,” Edouard said.
Following Edouard’s opening remarks, Erin Doolin, the graduate assistant for the Bystander Intervention Program, delivered the graduate address. Doolin highlighted the importance of looking beyond statistics of sexual assault and recognizing individuals.
“Sexual violence is an epidemic that often goes undetected in our community, and affects the individual lives of our classmates, friends, and family members.”
—Erin Doolin, graduate assistant for the Bystander Intervention Program
“These survivors are whole people who also happen to be survivors of sexual violence,” Doolin said.
As the graduate assistant for the Bystander Intervention Program, Doolin works with BC undergrads on a daily basis. The Bystander Program focuses on the importance of prosocial, bystander behaviors in preventing sexual assault.
“Sexual violence is an epidemic that often goes undetected in our community, and affects the individual lives of our classmates, friends, and family members,” Doolin said.
Doolin went on to explain concrete ways in which people can support survivors on their healing journeys. First, she emphasized the importance of believing victims when they come forward; the simple act of trusting a story and listening to a survivor can help them feel supported. Next, Doolin highlighted asking survivors about their needs, refraining from pushing them to do or say anything they are uncomfortable doing.
“There is no perfect guidebook about how to support a survivor, but listening to what they need and showing up is a good way to start,” Doolin said.
Furthermore, Doolin explained that no two healing journeys are the same, and that healing journeys are often non-linear. She stressed the importance of showing survivors that they are not burdens, and instead, are loved.
After Doolin’s address, the evening’s first student speaker took the podium. She recalled the horror of her rape and the lasting psychological trauma she has since suffered as a result.
“But what happened to me did not break me,” she said.
Between student speakers, the BC Sharps, the only all-female a cappella group on campus, sang renditions of songs known for their empowering lyrics.
The event concluded with a solidarity walk across campus, which incorporated spoken reflections and moments of pause. All attendees were given tea-light candles to place on campus in spots they wanted to reclaim.
“The power of the individual may seem small, but the day-to-day acts of support and bravery will reverberate through our community and result in great social change” Doolin said.
Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks / Heights Staff