The first Take Back the Night event occurred in Philadelphia in 1975 with the intent of raising awareness of violence towards females after a man stabbed a young female microbiologist as she was walking home from work.
Supported by USF’s Center for Victim Advocacy and Violence Prevention, this event was held for students, faculty and community members who are committed to supporting the survivors of sexual violence and to celebrate the healing and strength of survivors everywhere.
T-shirts were hung, circling the amphitheater, as a part of the Clothesline Project of Tampa Bay. This project consists of visually displaying shirts that are decorated by either a survivor of violence or by a loved one of someone who has been killed.
The seats of the amphitheater were decorated with goodie bags, complimentary of N.I.T.E., equipped with a mint, whistle and light combo keychain, pen and packet of tissues.
A bell chimed once every two minutes signifying every time a person is raped in the United States.
The event kicked off with a compelling speech by Kimberly Alexandra Mundell, a fellow survivor as well as Chair of the VOICES Advocacy Committee for the Family Justice Center. She shared her story of being trapped in a long, abusive marriage and how she was finally able to escape and begin healing the wounds left by the horrifying memories.
Mundell spoke passionately about how important it is for survivors to speak out and spread the word against sexual violence.
“No one has the right to hurt you and enough is enough,” Mundell said. “I’m never going to let anyone silence me.”
Dr. Larry Braue, former Army lieutenant colonel and director of USF Veterans Services, took the stage to lead the male attendees in the REAL (Relationship Equality Anti-violence League) Men’s Promise. All men present made a verbal promise to end violence towards women, as well as stand up against the culture that promotes sexual or relationship violence.
Then began the silent march, an aspect of the event intended as a time of reflection dedicated to all victims of rape or sexual assault. All attendees grabbed an anti-violence sign and walked the perimeter of the MLK Plaza in silence. Every few yards, a person stood reciting a powerful statistic about sexual violence. The only sound that could be heard was that of sniffling noses and sobbing.
Following the march was the Survivor Speak Out aimed “to break the silence that surrounds us.” The crowd grew very emotional as one-by-one, survivors of sexual violence gained courage to go up and speak out about their story.
Men and women of all ages told personal accounts of being sexually assaulted or raped by a family member, significant other or stranger. They discussed the slow process of overcoming such a psychologically damaging experience and expressed gratitude to all those supporting the cause. Advocates, from the Victim’s Advocate Center, lined the area to offer support and comfort to those who spoke out.
After about an hour and a half of tear-jerking tales, all attendees lit the light on their provided keychain and had a long moment of silence for those who did not speak or are unable to speak.
At this point in the program, there was seldom a dry eye; it now made sense why tissues were provided in the goodie bag.
One survivor, Soso Mucherera, a sophomore in international business, was not originally planning on speaking out but felt inspired by other victims and decided to share her story.
“The biggest reason why I went up was to just show that I could do it and that I can say no now when I couldn’t before when I was younger,” Mucherera said. “You should tell somebody so that one person will take it to heart. One person will understand.”
Luckily, Dr. Kevin Banks, USF Dean of Students, was there to rejoice the heartfelt crowd. He talked more about spreading the word to end sexual violence.
“We heard some stories tonight that make you want to cry, want to holler. It should make you want to act,” Banks said. “We need to move from paper to practice.”
He then led everyone in singing “Stand By Me” by Ben E. King, a moment that was both nostalgic and unifying.
“I think that this is a really beautiful experience and it makes me really proud to be a part of it, considering I have eight friends that have either been raped or sexually assaulted,” said Coral Friesner, a freshman majoring in psychology and women’s gender study.
Another student in attendance, Chris Leis, a freshman majoring in architecture, found the whole event to be very moving.
“It empowered me so that if I ever did come across that situation I would be able to stand up and do something,” Leis said. “It allowed me to realize that everybody can be a victim and that even people who imagine they’re strong can sometimes feel weak, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone.”