Survivors, not Victims: Take Back the Night focuses on sexual assault awareness & survivor support

ART GALLERY

Take Back the Night, an annual event organized by the VOICE Center, provided an opportunity for the community to stand together against violence, and created an environment of healing and safety for survivors. A powerful art gallery ran on Thursday, April 6, and Friday, April 7, and featured several projects centered around survivors of sexual assault. There were tables where people could make shirts for the Clothesline Project, and signs for the rally and march that took place in the latter half of the Take Back the Night events.

The Clothesline Project runs for a week twice a year: once in October for Domestic Assault Awareness Month, and once in April for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Alanna Sherstad, director of the VOICE Center, says that it’s another way to break the silence. The Clothesline Project is “airing out society’s dirty laundry,” according to Sherstad. The first Clothesline Project originated in Hyannis, Massachusetts, in 1990, though it didn’t begin at MSU until several years ago. People in the art gallery were free to make their own shirts, that would then be hung outside.

In the center of the room was a collection of pictures of survivors of sexual assault holding signs, first displayed at the Summit on Sexual Assault that took place in October, 2013. On these signs were statements said to survivors after they told someone about their assault, and many of the statements were victim-blaming. Sherstad stated that it’s extremely important to bring attention to how harmful these statements can be. Because of victim blaming it takes an average of five years for someone to speak up about sexual assault. It is detrimental if such statements are the first thing survivors hear when they finally tell their experience.

The last part of the art gallery was the FACES Project. Organized by VOICE Center Advocate and Peer Educator Hannah Telling, photographed by student Katie Beall and oversaw by Sherstad, the FACES Project consisted of black and white photographs of survivors of sexual assault. “The FACES Project really demonstrates the strength and resilience and bravery of survivors,” Telling said. The goal of the FACES Project was to help break the silence and stigma surrounding sexual violence. Telling said survivors are often depicted as “curled in a corner crying,” though that’s not the case. Instead, survivors often face their trauma with incredible strength and perseverance.

The FACES Project was completely survivor-driven. If a survivor no longer wanted their photo in the series, it was at their discretion to remove it from the collection. Along with this, survivors chose where and when the photo was shown, and how they wanted the photo to look. Some photos featured full-body shots, others showed just hands or faces. Before every photo session, Telling and Beall sat down with the survivors to hear about their journey. Then, during the photo session, Telling provided advocacy for survivors, and made sure that the environment was supportive and welcoming. Each survivor provided a quote, poem, song lyrics or piece of art to accompany their photo. Beall stated that while the photos show the immense strength of the survivors, the writings show facets of their vulnerability.

PROVIDING SUPPORT

Telling says that the best ways to help prevent sexual violence is make sure that the language one uses is supportive and not victim-blaming in nature. “Language is the base of our culture,” Telling said. Along with this, the VOICE Center suggests the “three D’s” for bystander intervention. The first is “direct,” to intervene directly with ongoing situations. The next is “delegate,” to let someone like the owner of the house at a party or a bouncer know that something’s not right with a situation and prompts them to intervene. The last is “distract,” to draw the attention of the assaulter away from the victim and to something else, while the victim can get to safety.

Another way to support survivors of sexual violence and assault is to attend events that deal with sexual violence prevention, sponsored by organizations on campus like the VOICE Center, Not in Our House or Students Against Sexual Assault. Telling stated that purely by being present at such events, one can showing their support for survivors.

The VOICE Center also provides advocacy and peer educator training. Advocates go through 40 hours of training before beginning their role and participate in role playing situations with VOICE Center staff along with shadowing other, more experienced advocates. Peer educators have already been an advocate, and give presentations. The peer educator position is a year-long commitment.

The FACES Project is looking for more volunteers to photograph. Contact the VOICE Center at (406) 994-7662, voice@montana.edu, msuvoice@gmail.com, or come in person to SUB 370 to talk about becoming part of this project.

MARCH & RALLY

Following the gallery opening and the Survivor SpeakOut, the Students Against Sexual Assault (SASA) hosted a rally in front of Montana Hall as part of their Take Back the Night event. They provided refreshments for those present, and offered signs with expressions such as, “Listen, Support, Believe” and “I <3 Consent” for those involved in the event to hold high as they marched from campus to the Baxter Hotel on West Main Street.

The rally featured music by Chicks with Sticks, a bucket band dedicated to “empowering and inspiring by making a joyful noise.” This group defines themselves as “women who celebrate life’s diversity in its many forms, and are active in supporting gay and lesbian issues, women’s empowerment and other social justice work.”

The rally also featured a speech by a survivor who discussed what the event meant to her and applauded the work of the organization behind it. SASA President Ryan Chauner, Vice President Taly Polukoff and member Paul Krech spoke and discussed the importance of making sure survivors know this group of students is listening to them, supporting them and believing them. Following these talks, the rally ended with a candle lighting and a moment of silence in honor of those who have experienced sexual assault.

Immediately following the rally was the Take Back the Night March, led by Chicks with Sticks and SASA, departing from Montana Hall, heading north on South 8th Avenue, and ending at the Baxter Hotel, where the Take Back the Night Celebration was held. The March went from 7:30 – 8:00 p.m., and marchers chanted eight different chants on their trek, such as, “two, four, six, eight, no more violence, no more rape!” and, “We are women, we are men, together we fight, take back the night!”

As the group marched and chanted, community members and students joined in before they finished their march with a celebration at the Baxter, displaying their desire to break the silence surrounding sexual assault and support the survivors.

CELEBRATION

The final event in the VOICE Center’s Take Back the Night was a celebration at the Baxter Hotel following the march from Montana Hall. The celebration included music by local guitar, vocal, bass and keyboard trio Kate and the Alleycats, food, drinks and a raffle.

The celebration was an event for the marchers, community members, SASA and Chicks with Sticks to gather and praise the success of Take Back the Night. The raffle included items donated by various local shops including gift certificates to Element Tattoo, Western Cafe, multiple spas, guided fishing tours and many more.