Downtown Appleton received a crowd of around 50 people advocating for women’s rights as Take Back the Night took to College Avenue April 18. The event, organized by Downer Feminist Council, aimed to raise awareness for gender violence, sexual assault and rape.
Though Appleton is often rated a safe city, the event served as a reminder that issues of sexual violence exist everywhere. Sophomore Lauren Schulte, the president of DFC, saw the event as an opportunity to make the issues more salient.
Schulte commented, “People think of Lawrence as progressive and Appleton as safe, but suddenly that was pulled out from under our feet. We realized that friends and acquaintances and classmates have had these experiences. That’s a big part of Take Back the Night: for us to be aware that we’re surrounded by these issues.”
TBTN serves as a reaction against the notion that women should have to fear for their safety. The event’s name is inspired by the reality that women frequently become victims while walking alone at night. The TBTN website cites incidents such as the 16,000 reported cases of rape in Rome in 1976 as catalysts of the marches.
Lecturer of Gender Studies and Freshmen Studies Helen Boyd-Kramer and Emily Bowles, an advocate from the Sexual Assault Crisis Center, spoke to this issue before the march started to remind participants of the importance of awareness for these issues.
The speakers highlighted the reality of the violence that occurs as a result of being part of a vulnerable population and also gave advice about how to work against these issues. Following the speeches, attendees marched down College Avenue, led by the beats of the Sambistas percussion group.
The march ended at Houdini Plaza where the group gathered for the Speak Out portion of the night, which was an opportunity for any of the marchers to share their personal experiences with sexual assault and rape.
Senior Tamanna Hossain chose to share her own experience at Speak Out: “It was hard to see how many around me have been through sexual trauma, but it was also therapeutic to know there are people who understand. I was touched by the compassion shown by everyone present, strangers and friends alike.”
Sophomore Emily McLane explained, “It’s not an easy thing to do, but it was an environment that was safe and comfortable. They knew that the people who were listening really cared.”
Preceding the march, a student organization fair consisting of different campus and Appleton organizations showed their support for raising awareness of sexual assault and rape. Among them were the following Lawrence student groups: V-day, GLOW, Amnesty International and the Magpie Thrift Store.
Also present were organizations from the community such as Harbor House — a local women’s shelter — and Voices of Men, a group that advocates for the responsibility of men’s actions to help reduce rape culture.
Attendees held the common belief that by raising awareness, the march contributed to ending the issues of sexual assault and rape.
Freshman Alexis Cuozzo remarked, “It was a very empowering experience. I felt strong, invincible.”
Cuozzo believed that the effects of the march were lasting. She stated, “Perhaps one onlooker was affected by our march out of the many that saw us walking, but that one person is a valuable step towards a worldwide goal of freedom from sexual oppression.”