Editor's Note: The article has been updated to accurately describe ways to contact the confidential resources available to survivors of sexual violence.
Sexual assault survivors and allies from higher education institutions across Virginia united for an online version of the annual event, Take Back the Night, called “Take Back the Net” on April 7.
Usually held in the University of Richmond Forum, this year’s event took place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and was hosted in a Zoom webinar by the Virginia Campus Task Force, a branch of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
Take Back the Night is an international event that started in the 1970s, according to Take Back the Night. The event has marches and candlelight vigils, based on the idea that people should feel safe to walk anywhere alone at night, said Kaylin Tingle, UR sexual misconduct prevention educator and an organizer, of the April 7 event.
Take Back the Night was supposed to take place on campus on April 2, but after the initial announcement delaying students’ return to campus, Tingle said she had realized the event would have to adapt.
Members of the task force who participated in the April 7 event alongside UR included Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia, College of William and Mary, Radford University and the University of Mary Washington.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, task force member representatives began to discuss how other campuses hosted Take Back the Night and consider how to adapt the event, Tingle said. But after classes were canceled at UR, representatives discussed how to adapt awareness programming to a virtual format, she said.
Take Back the Net was hosted in a Zoom webinar instead of a regular Zoom meeting, as organizers sought a way to preserve goals of accessibility and awareness but protect against Zoombombing and other inappropriate behavior. In Zoom webinars there can be up to 100 designated speakers, and those who are not designated speakers enter in a listen-only mode. Access to the chat setting was also limited, Tingle said.
“Those are the decisions that we’ve made to try and make sure it’s as safe as possible for both the speakers but also the people that are attending,” Tingle said.
A major difference in this year’s event was that speakers were selected before the event, whereas at previous Take Back the Night events on campus many survivors decided to speak while attending the event after being inspired by speakers.
“We decided to do a pre-screening process because that would be the way that we can best minimize people with bad intentions from coming up and saying ugly things or hateful things or Zoombombing in whatever way,” Tingle said.
After responding to the event advertisement that invited people to speak, potential speakers met with two counselors to ensure confidentiality and make sure they had appropriate coping skills, as Take Back the Night can be a triggering event, Tingle explained.
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UR’s Peer Sexual Misconduct Advisors were present as support resources, similar to how they would appear on campus. PSMAs had their Zoom accounts labeled so students could message them directly.
“What remains the same with Take Back the Net is that it is a survivor-led space, aiming to transform the power dynamics under the current rape culture and encourage yourself and community empowerment for survivors,” PSMAs collectively said in a statement.
Tingle said the event could help empower survivors because even though all stories were unique, the similarities between experiences could help create community.
“It’s just a really empowering and healing experience for survivors to speak their truth in a public setting and to really own their story and to also hear from other survivors about how their experiences have impacted them," Tingle said. "I think a lot of times there’s this feeling of solidarity and community when you hear other people talking about their stories."
Senior Jeff Lowe, a Center for Awareness, Response and Education (CARE) assistant, said that although the event may not have been as meaningful online as it would have been on campus, Take Back the Net was an important event. CARE, previously known as the Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention Response, is a resource for the UR community that aims to prevent sexual misconduct and support survivors.
“Take Back the Night kind of has that duality of a space of healing for those individuals, but it also raises awareness," Lowe said. "Because we’re kind of losing that visibility and campus community part, the healing for the individual people is still really important."
Lowe said the online event would help reinforce the importance of on-campus resources.
Eve Kagan, a University of Mary Washington counselor and survivor advocate, served as master of ceremonies for the evening. Kagan welcomed everyone, shared the general outline for the evening and emphasized the importance of self-care and breaks, if needed, for all participants and attendees.
Messages of support and positive affirmation filled the Q&A chat section on the right of the screen, encouraging speakers and applauding their strength.
During a 10-minute break in the middle of the event, Kagan led meditation exercises to help focus on self-care.
At the end of Take Back the Net, representatives of participating schools invited students in the Q&A chat section to contact them to be a part of future conversations about how to channel the energy from the event to enact change. The representatives also listed resources available on Virginia campuses as well as state and national resources.
Depending on feedback from the regional Take Back the Net, Tingle said she might host a UR-specific event in the near future. She said she hoped to host at least two different Take Back the Night events per year moving forward, with one in the fall and one in the spring. The spring event is typically held during April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
In addition to the CARE Instagram account (@spiders_care) listing additional resources, Tingle encouraged students to reach out to resources online during this time, if needed. Tingle said that there were 24/7 national resources, such as:
- The National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673 or hotline.rainn.org)
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org)
- The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Youth (1-866-488-7386 or thetrevorproject.org/get-help-now)
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255).
Confidential on-campus resources for survivors of sexual violence are CARE Advocates (1-804-801-6251 or firstname.lastname@example.org), Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the Chaplaincy and PSMAs (email@example.com), who are accessible through email and Zoom meetings during this time if desired.
Non-confidential resources include the University of Richmond Policy Department, Title IX deputy coordinators, the Office of Common Ground and the Westhampton College and Richmond College deans’ offices.
Contact newsletter director Eileen Pomeroy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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