A solemn crowd gathered in the University Forum on Tuesday evening for the University of Richmond’s annual Take Back the Night event. The glow of the lampposts illuminated the speakers at the microphone and diffused across the audience, reflecting the event’s purpose to shine a light on sexual violence.

Take Back the Night is an opportunity for survivors and allies to speak about the impact that sexual violence has had on their lives, said Britnie Hopkins, the university sexual misconduct education and prevention coordinator. 

The event varies by campus, Hopkins said, and universities began hosting them in the 1970s. At UR, the aim of the night is to break the silence surrounding sexual violence, Hopkins said, and to Take Back the Night because most assaults happen between midnight and 4 a.m.

“Your experience is real,” Hopkins said. “Your survivorship is valid.”

Choeur du Roi performed “Warrior” by Demi Lovato and “Praying” by Ke$ha before survivors shared their stories.

Junior Anna Lowenthal, one of Hopkins’ assistants, was the first to speak, telling her story and reminding the audience that speaking is just one possible form of healing.

“The pain I felt on that summer evening still pierces me sharply like I’m stepping on glass,” Lowenthal said in reference to the five years that have passed since her assault.

Students spoke about their experiences from middle school, high school and college as victims and allies. Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisers, interns with Counseling and Psychological Services and Hopkins’ assistants read anonymous submissions. As the night continued, the lamplights shone brighter, reflecting the survivors’ messages of hope.

“The most painful experience can also be the one that makes you the strongest,” one speaker said.

Senior Catharine Sciolla has run Take Back the Night for three years. She serves as a PSMA, the president of Spiders for Spiders and an assistant to Hopkins. Sciolla closed the event with her story and two poems from “Milk and Honey” by Rupi Kaur, ending with, “If you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise.”

April is sexual assault awareness month, and Take Back the Night is one of several events for this month, Sciolla said. During Take Back the Night, WILL*’s Clothesline Project framed the speakers, and a Styrofoam wreath with blue ribbons sat to the side. 

Sciolla and Lowenthal have left the wreath in various locations on campus with instructions. Passersby put a ribbon on for every person they know affected by sexual violence, Sciolla and Lowenthal said. PSMAs tabled in Tyler Haynes Commons leading up to Take Back the Night, asking passersby to write cards to be handed to people who spoke at the event.

Immediately following the event, attendees were welcome to a hangout in The Pier with snacks and live music by Bethany Gates. The purpose of the hangout was to provide people a place to transition back into going to the library or otherwise continuing their nights, Sciolla said. PSMAs were available to speak to in private in the Commons, Sciolla said.

If attendees want to continue to spotlight their experiences and the effects of sexual violence, a formal debrief is scheduled for 4 to 5 p.m. Thursday in the Commons, Room 348. Students can also attend a healing pottery workshop from 7 to 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17 in the same room. On April 18, Spiders for Spiders is hosting a bystanders training

Confidential on-campus resources for survivors of sexual assault are CAPS, the Office of the Chaplaincy, PSMAs (psma@richmond.edu), the university sexual misconduct education and prevention coordinator, a Safe Harbor advocate (804-801-6251) and the Student Health Center. 

Non-confidential resources include the Title IX deputy coordinator, the university police department, the Office of Common Ground, and the Richmond and Westhampton college deans’ offices. Survivors can also seek help off-campus at St. Mary’s Hospital or Safe Harbor.

Contact news writer Katherine Schulte at katherine.schulte@richmond.edu.

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