Take Back the Night 2014 uses art to ‘shatter the silence’ around sexual assault

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/Staff

Michelle Kim/File

Michelle Kim/Staff

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Sexual and gender-based violence are all too common occurrences in American society, and statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network only highlight the prevalence of these transgressions.

While there have been changes to the university’s sexual harassment and violence policies and efforts to pass legislation to overhaul university policies surrounding sexual assault, the treatment of such cases is still not where many believe it should be, given the gravity of what many — primarily female students — go through.

Take Back the Night, a yearly event that was held Thursday night on Sproul Plaza, gave these students and community members a platform to tell their own stories, as well as speak out against sexual assault and gender-based violence. A student-run event put on by the Gender Equity and Resource Center, or GenEq, Berkeley’s TBTN is part of a nationwide campaign to raise awareness about these issues and provide a safe space for survivors and allies to speak out in a number of amazing performances.

Early Take Back the Night events include one in 1973 in San Francisco against pornography, and one in Philadelphia in 1975 after Susan Alexander Speeth was murdered while walking home one night. Since these first events, TBTN has been held around the world, and university events have used art, music and poetry to “shatter the silence” around sexual assault.

The cries of “shatter the silence, stop the violence” echoed around the steps of Sproul Hall as students gathered around tables of food and resources from a number of campus and community organizations. Near Golden Bear Cafe, the Art for Social Change DeCal gave away print posters depicting a broken hourglass revealing a poem about someone with an “hourglass figure” rising above the previous traumas they had been through.

GenEq’s introduction briefly outlined the history of the event and its importance to not only the survivors of sexual assault and gender-based violence but also the community as a whole. In between acts, members of the student group read out the statistics surrounding sexual violence.

The night’s first performance was by the Golden Overtones, a UC Berkeley a cappella group, who sang with beautiful resonance and filled the plaza with their powerful voices, joined together against the terrible things people do to one another. After this was an original, commanding essay by senior Savannah Carnes about Berkeley’s poor response to and policies about sexual assault and what needs to be done to change it for the better.

Other memorable performances include: BareTroupe’s rendition of two numbers from “Hairspray” and “Hair,” several amazing poems from CalSlam about self-image and feeling welcome in one’s own body, an original poem by a student from Mills College in Oakland — whose own TBTN event is being held Thursday — about helping out someone she saw on BART who was in obvious distress, several poems from local Bay Area artist Aquelia Lewis recounting her own childhood and adult trauma from sexual assault, and many more performances that elicited snaps, claps and cheers from the audience.

Near the end of the night was an open mic section, during which people from the crowd could tell their own tales of harassment and assault or speak out against a system that treated their experiences as negligible. Words blared out of the microphone — whether they were from a direct survivor of sexual assault, someone who allied with the cause or just anyone who cared in some way — and were directed toward a shift in the way the university handles such cases and claims. Ultimately, the stories told at this year’s Take Back the Night were a firm stance against misrecognition and ignorance of crimes against so many women, as well as a place of healing and community for those who took part.

Contact Youssef Shokry at [email protected].