Thursday, May 2, 2013

Iowa City community, UI students take back the night

By Jon Overton

IOWA CITY — A chorus of chants sounded throughout the streets of Downtown Iowa City as demonstrators carried signs demanding an end to rape and sexual assault and showing support for victims on the evening of April 30.

Demonstrators march through Downtown Iowa City, along 
Linn Street.                    (Jon Overton/Iowa Peace Network)
This event was called Take Back the Night, which has been held annually in Iowa City since 1979. It included speakers from University of Iowa organizations, followed by a march through Downtown Iowa City and culminating with an opportunity for victims of sexual assault and rape to speak about their experiences. 
Although Take Back the Night used to focus on violence primarily against women, its sponsoring organizations — the UI Women’s Resource and Action Center and Rape Victim Advocacy Program — decided to shift the emphasis toward all victims of relational and sexual violence.

Linda Kroon, president of the Women's Resource and Action Center, told attendees that they’d like to tell victims that “We see you. We hear you. We care about you. We’re here to make a commitment to ourselves and to each other: we will not tolerate these forms of violence — not against ourselves, not against anyone gathered here, not against anyone on this campus or in the community, not against another living, breathing human being. Tonight we say ‘no more.’”

According to a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2010, 1.1 women per 1,000 were raped or sexually assaulted, down from 3.6 women per 1,000 in 1995. However, rates of threatened and attempted rape and sexual assault remained constant over the same period. Also, the percentage of rape or sexual assault victimizations reported to the police has fallen from 56 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2010.

While men can also be victims of rape and sexual assault, the report focused mainly on women because the number of incidences and rates among men are generally too small to analyze accurately.

Jacob Oppenheimer, coordinator of the Men’s Anti-Violence Council, said in one sense, it’s unfortunate that Take Back the Night occurs, but in another, it’s good that it does.

“I’m deeply saddened that this event is necessary, that we continue to come back again and again and have to push back against this idea that victims cannot be heard,” he said. “... but I’m also proud ... that we will not put up with sexual assault, with domestic violence, dating violence, harassment [or] stalking.”

Sarah Johnson, a lawyer with SPJ Consulting, told attendees of Take Back the Night that she herself is a victim of rape.

“I thought it was my fault,” she said. “I was drunk at a party when I was 15, but then I realized that if your house is unlocked, can burglars still enter? Is it okay for them to take your stuff? I think we all agree the answer to that is no. ... I’m in charge of everything that happens to [my body] — how many Doritos I eat, how many bad spray tans I get — so whatever I want to do, this is my thing and I’ve got all the power over it.”

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