Kent State Women’s Center hosted two events, giving sexual assault victims a voice

Alicia Balog

“Claim our bodies, claim our rights! Take a stand, Take Back the Night!”

Chants like these echoed throughout campus Thursday night as people walked together to raise awareness for sexual violence for Kent State University’s Take Back the Night rally and march.

It was just one part of the day’s activities to promote Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Before Take Back the Night began, students had the opportunity to read the stories of dozens of people that decorated shirts that hung on two rows of clothesline inside the Student Center earlier that afternoon.

Meaning of the ribbons

White – Ally

Purple – Survivor of Domestic Violence

Teal – Survivor of Sexual Assault/Rape

Gray – Survivor of Stalking

Pink – LGBTQ Violence Survivor (violence against someone based on orientation)

Light Blue – Adult Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

Jennie O’Connell, Sexual Assault Response Team coordinator who organized Take Back the Night and the clothesline event, said the events were paired together because of the similar, somewhat serious atmosphere surrounding them.

O’Connell said the shirts were a way to show people the long-lasting impact sexual assault has on people and give the victims a voice.

“For the people who make the shirts, it’s an opportunity for them to be able to express the trauma they’ve experienced, especially their feelings because often times it’s difficult to talk about. It gives them a physical way to express it,” O’Connell said.

Lucneus Direny, freshman pre-human development and family studies major, saw one of the shirts had a breast cancer sign and started reading through the different stories.

A shirt reading “I will not let one asshole influence who I become” stood out to him.

“I’ve never been a fan of violence towards women, and I thought going through the shirts would be something good and it is,” he said. “People just need more awareness on how to treat women.”

Afterward, people moved outside, preparing for the rally and march around campus.

People tied colored ribbons, sometimes multiple, on their arms or heads to symbolize whether they were a victim or survivor of sexual violence and what type, or an ally or advocate for others. Then, participants wrote their stories or the names of their assaulters on a piece of paper and threw it into a fire, watching the ash float into the air.

“That’s for victims and survivors who want to burn their stories, burn the name of their perpetrator,” O’Connell said. “It’s a way for them to release, to release any control, any feelings that they have, as a way to moving on that healing process.”

State Representative Kathleen Clyde then spoke to about the different legislation in the Ohio congress relating to sexual assault, such as proposed legislation to create a rape crisis fund for the 27 rape crisis centers throughout Ohio.

After her speech, the participants lit candles and carried them as they marched through Risman Plaza and stopped at Eastway, Tri-Towers and the Women’s Center, allowing people the opportunity to share their stories.

Five people spoke about their hopes and experiences, expressing their anger or sadness about situations they’ve and those they’ve know been in.

Mercedes Cleaver, a former Kent State student who is enrolled to start again in the fall after being deployed, spoke about being molested when she was 12 years old and how the rape crisis center really helped her through it.

“I think the rape crisis center was like, ‘We want to get to know each other as friends and help you out of your slump or paranoia or whatever baggage you bring from that,’” Cleaver said.

O’Connell said the theme for the night was empowerment.

“We want people who have been victimized by sexual violence to know that they’re not alone and that they’re not the only one,” O’Connell said. “We want all women to be able to come together in solidarity in taking back the night and say, ‘You know what? Sexual violence needs to end. We should be able to walk freely. We want to take back the night.’”

Contact Alicia Balog at [email protected].