While the sun slowly sank behind Fernald Hall Friday evening, a crowd gathered in front of Fogler Library, bringing Rape Awareness Week to a close with the University of Maine’s annual Take Back the Night rally.
An international movement and tradition since the 1970s, the Student Women’s Association worked with The Safe Campus Project and Students For a Safe Campus to bring the rally to campus again this year, spreading awareness and raising support to stop rape and violence everywhere.
“We are all here to stand up to the myth that we are powerless. It can be stopped, we just have to stand up and do something about it,” said Becky Woods, a member and a representative of the Peer Educator Program.
Despite the chill in the air and the wind, UMaine’s female a capella group, Renaissance, showed their support for the cause, singing for the crowd beneath the American and Maine flags on the terrace of Fogler Library.
The women performed songs by Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson, keeping with the rally’s empowering theme with lyrics from Clarkson’s “Breakaway.”
The crowd lounged on the grass below the singers while part of the library stairs were covered with symbolic brightly colored shoes and roped off by tape that read, “Rape Free Zone.”
The first speaker was Amy Blackstone, assistant professor in the UMaine Sociology Department.
A survivor of rape herself, in the early 1990s Blackstone got involved with rape awareness and Take Back the Night rallies at her university in Iowa.
Later as a graduate student, her focus shifted from being active in the movement to studying and observing.
Working in the field for about 15 years, knowing all the time and effort that has been directed toward preventing rape since and before the 1970s, Blackstone said she feels frustrated that violence is still a big issue in our culture.
“As a survivor, I’m angry and I’m bummed. Not just because it happened to me, but because it is still happening,” said Blackstone at the rally.
An adviser for SSC, Blackstone also feels strongly about the need for women and men to work together on social issues like this.
When she first came to UMaine there was not an organization for women and men to specifically work together against rape and other violence. She was surprised because it is not just a women’s issue and men are not the only ones to be blamed.
“One thing very important about Students for a Safe Campus Project is that there are men and women that participate in [ending violence] together and that’s what we need,” said Blackstone.
One good thing that Blackstone feels has changed is the environment society is creating for survivors today.
More often, survivors are encouraged to speak out about their experiences and not to feel ashamed for something they had no control over.
Sue Hamilton was the spokesperson for Spruce Run, a Bangor organization providing shelter and resources to people affected by domestic violence, as well as information and education about violence to the public.
Hamilton gave examples of how rape and violence exist beyond stereotypical thought.
“Sexual violence is often a huge part of power and control in an intimate relationship,” said Hamilton.
“Often it’s not the strangers in the bushes who we have to be afraid of. Often it’s those who profess to love us.”
After the speakers were finished, survivors were encouraged to share their stories.
“Silence means shame, and it’s not something we should be ashamed of [as victims],” said Jamie Roper, a member of SWA, opening the stage to the survivor speak out.
After a drawn-out moment of quiet, one woman stepped up to the microphone, breaking the silence and opening the way for others to follow her.
Women stepped up for themselves, their friends, their sisters and even their children.
They told their stories, they cried and they refused to allow unwarranted shame to hold power over them and their voices.
“I don’t know of any female friend of mine who hasn’t had to worry about walking alone at night even though the threat may or may not be probable. It is real in our minds,” said Emily Lord, member of SWA.
To finish the rally, a candlelight vigil and a march led by a UMaine police car were planned.
Due to the wind, the vigil could not take place. Nevertheless, their commitment and passion to stop rape burned just as bright for the marchers.
“It’s a visual demonstration of who wants a safe community. You can look around and see the faces of people who want that,” said Adam Kirkland, president of Student Government. “It’s comforting.”