News, On Campus

‘Take Back the Night’ Challenges Silence Surrounding Sexual Violence

Silence is used as a weapon to protect perpetrators of sexual violence and assault, according to Shawn McGuffey, the keynote speaker at the Boston College Women’s Center’s annual Take Back the Night event.

“We must stand behind survivors, listen to them, and change the culture to help prevent rape, and implement programs and enact laws that protect survivors when it does occur,” read Victoria Garcia, assistant director of intersections in BC’s Division of Mission and Ministry, who delivered McGuffey’s keynote address, as he could not attend the event. 

Students gathered outside of O’Neill Library for Take Back the Night as part of the Women’s Center’s C.A.R.E. (Concerned about Rape Education) Week on Wednesday evening. 

“Tonight we join together as a community to reflect, heal, and advocate for change,” said Gracie Kwak, a Women’s Center staff member and MCAS ’23.

Take Back the Night is not only a BC program, it is an annual worldwide event that aims to break the stigma surrounding sexual violence and to empower assault survivors, according to Abigail Iafolla, Women’s Center staff member and MCAS ’22.

“Initially, Take Back the Night stood as a response to the conditions that caused women to feel unsafe being alone at night, but night has also come to serve as a metaphor for all those who have felt fear, isolation, and coercion,” Iafolla said.

McGuffey—an associate professor of sociology and African and African diaspora studies—recounted the story of a survivor of sexual assaul who he refered to as “Sarah” in his speech. 

When McGuffey told Sarah about his plan to speak at Take Back the Night as a cisgender male, he said Sarah emphasized the importance of allies and survivors working together to combat sexual violence. According to McGuffey, Sarah said it is crucial that survivors and allies engage in uncomfortable dialogues about power and privilege to find potential solutions. 

McGuffey also stressed that themes of identity should be incorporated into discussions about sexual assault.

“Identities, however, are not neutral,” Garcia read from McGuffey’s speech. “They’re laden with power and often layers of unearned privilege. Certain voices are amplified while others are marginalized.”

A BC student and survivor of sexual assault then approached the podium to share their story. In the speech, the student discussed misconceptions about sexual abuse. 

“The idea that perpetrators are these random people in alleyways or strangers is the exception,” the student said. “I am the reality that more often than not, people know their assailants.”

Another BC student shared an original poem written specifically for the Take Back the Night event. In the poem, the student illustrated the physical and emotional damage caused by sexual assault, highlighting the challenges of the healing process.

“And no one talks about how hard it is to write about the healing process,” the second student said. “To put your thoughts into words and bring such a delicate reality to life.”

Events like Take Back the Night are essential for college campuses, according to one attendee. 

“[Sexual assault] is just important to know about and be informed about, and having big events like this across college campuses just ensures that more people hear about it and it’s something that’s talked about,” she said. 

Kwak and Iafolla later read a pledge which written by the Women’s Center’s Bystander Intervention program to encourage advocacy in the BC community and end sexual assault on campus. 

“In summary, I will support everyone in the Boston College community by listening, continuing to learn, intervening wherever I perceive any form of oppression, and committing to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for all,” Iafolla said.

The Women’s Center conclued the event by highlighting resources on BC’s campus available to individuals dealing with the impact of sexual assault, such as SANet, University Counseling Services, and the Women’s Center itself.

“Above all, we want to recognize that healing is not a linear journey, and there’s so much courage in reaching out and asking for support,” Kwak said.

Featured Image Courtesy of the Women’s Center

March 24, 2022