Barhite: Anniversary marks ongoing effort to curb violence against womenWritten by Brandi Barhite | Community Ombudsman | firstname.lastname@example.org
Lauren Merrell, a UT grad student studying social work, is helping organize the 20th annual Take Back the Night.
But more significantly she might decide to speak out herself.
“I recently became a survivor last March 2013,” she said. “I think I might talk about it. It takes a lot of courage.”
While Merrell doesn’t want to say more yet, on her own time she will relay her story of violence against women.
For now, she wants to make sure both victims and advocates come to Take Back the Night on April 26 at the University of Toledo, Scott Park Campus. The resource fair begins at 6 p.m.; the events begin at 7 p.m.
The evening includes the women’s march and survivor speakout, in addition to an ally/men’s program. Everything is free and open to the public. Childcare is provided.
“I think that Take Back the Night is one event where so many people come together and it is such a supporting environment and an environment of sisterhood and an environment of healing. There is a ‘Take Back the Night high’ after you leave,” Merrell said.
Sharon Barnes, associate UT professor, has been involved in Toledo’s version of this grassroots effort since the beginning.
Twenty years later, she wishes an anniversary celebration wasn’t necessary.
“We are looking forward to the day when we don’t have to have a Take Back the Night,” she said. “We are not happy that we still have to protest violence against women.”
The first event was hosted in front of University Hall at UT. A conference in Toledo about violence attended by prominent feminist gave it momentum.
“One of the ways it is different now is we are much better organized. Many of us have done it for a few years,” Barnes said.
The first year the women marched from the front of University Hall to Ottawa Park, the organizers forget about transportation to get people back to University Hall.
“It was a rookie mistake and it is quite hilarious,” Barnes said.
In the beginning, the event attracted 50-60 people with upwards of 400 people these days.
“For some women, they come back every year. It is a way to mark their own progress and their own healing,” according to Barnes.
But you don’t need to be a survivor to attend. Many come to supports friends and family who have survived or remember those who have been murdered.
Barnes said adding the men’s program is a change from 20 years ago.
“The community rally is open to everyone. The men’s go to the men’s event and the women march, and then the women come back and speak out about their violence,” Barnes said.
“There are lots of women who say, ‘I have never told anyone about this before,’ and then they tell you this unbelievable horrible story.”
Speaking isn’t required, though.
“Surely, women come and don’t speak and feel comforted and feel like they are not alone,” Barnes said.
Meanwhile, the men attend their program, which addresses rape culture, how to be an advocate and how to confront other men.
“Men need to work with each about how to become advocates 365 days of the year,” Barnes said. “We know that men listen to men.”
Michelle Rizzi Salerno was murdered by her husband, Dennis, in 2000. Her mother, Pat Rizzi, tries to attend Take Back the Night whenever she can, although this year she will be out of town.
She wants more men to attend because she is tired of women being blamed and hearing the phrase, “He just snapped.”
“Men need to stand up and say, ‘This isn’t acceptable. This behavior has to change,’” Rizzi said.
At the time of her daughter’s murder, Michelle was grad student at The Michigan State University.
“I pressured her to leave,” Rizzi said. “I had no idea you needed to develop a safety plan.”
Rizzi said too many times people think that victims just need to leave, but that sometimes puts them in the most danger.
Not until the end, did she fear for her daughter’s life. When she didn’t show up to a family outing, she called the police.
“I didn’t realize she was in danger of being murdered. I just thought she was in a bad marriage,” Rizzi said of her initial thoughts.
According to the National Organization for Women, every 20 seconds a woman in is battered by her partner. Annually, nearly 5 million incidences of domestic violence and rape are reported, and one-third of women murdered in the U.S. are killed by an intimate partner.
Barnes said Take Back the Night addresses all forms of violence against women. And no one is immune. Violence against women crosses all communities, demographics and economic levels.
“I think we are all personally affected,” Barnes said. “My freedom of motion in the world is affected because I am perceived as a target.”
That is why the march is so empowering. Women are walking in the dark, something that they are warned against doing.
“The event is a safe place for survivors and women. When women come off that march, they feel empowered. They know they are going to be believed and respected,” Barnes said.
One year, it was freezing rain, but the women still marched.
“It was horrible. It was so freezing. There was something amazingly powerful about taking the street in those conditions,” Barnes said.
The silent witness and clothesline projects have become mainstays of the event and will continue this year. Silhouettes of women murdered are on display, while T-shirts are decorated to depict those who survived — and those who didn’t.
“It is another mechanism of making the survivor’s experience visible. It plays on the airing the dirty laundry concept. It is a way to graphically show and demonstrate the experience of women who are not seen and believed,” Barnes said.
Merrell said anyone can benefit from attending Take Back the Night, even those who just want to learn how to help a victim.
“If someone does come, I hope it changes their view of domestic violence and violence against women,” she said. “I think a lot of people get stuck in society’s way of viewing violence against women.”
Merrell wants the women to remember this: “They are not alone. It is not their fault, and we believe them.”
Take Back the Night
University of Toledo, Scott Park Campus
6 p.m. – Resource Fair
7 p.m. – Events begin
*Free child care
*Free shuttle from UT to Scott Park (go to University of Toledo Transportation Center)
Tags: 20th annual Take Back the Night, a UT grad student studying social work, associate UT professor, domestic violence and rape, Lauren Merrell, Murder, National Organization for Women, Scott Park Campus, Sharon Barnes, The Michigan State University, University Hall, University of Toledo, violence against women