The Ohio University and Athens communities called attention to the issue of sexual violence and its impact on those populations with a virtual Take Back the Night event last week and accompanying social media campaign.
In pre-pandemic years, the Take Back the Night rally and march to raise awareness about sexual assault and gender-based violence was held annually on OU’s campus. This year, the event proceeded in the form of a livestream, with a list of speakers talking about their experiences and allyship Thursday night.
The event was hosted by OU’s Women’s Center and Ohio University Student Senate, with help from My Sister’s Place domestic violence shelter and the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program, as well as the Survivor Advocacy Program and several other Ohio University offices.
Livestream event emcee MarQuelle Phillips noted that despite there being “mandated reporters” present (OU employees who are required to report signs of sexual misconduct) at the event, nobody would be reported to that Title IX office for disclosing that they had been sexually assaulted.
Phillips herself is a survivor, and she said she co-founded a traveling ministry with her husband as a part of her coping process.
René Redd, a community-based advocate and crisis intervention specialist for the Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program (SAOP), spoke about the resources the program offers: for example, some services include a 24-hour hotline, support for people during medical exams and assistance with filing for protection orders. SAOP also connects survivors with mental health resources, childcare, housing and employment. The organization supports survivors throughout the region, specifically in Athens, Morgan, Perry, Jackson, Gallia, Hocking, Meigs and Vinton Counties.
Speaker Sarah Liese pointed to the Missing Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls movement, which works to protect the lives of Indigenous women from sexual violence.
“The Missing Murdered Indigenous Women crisis has been called an epidemic,” Liese, who is an activist and journalist, said. “Indigenous communities around the nation are advocating for change and a safer future for their daughters.”
Several survivors were speakers during this year’s Take Back the Night event.
OU Senior Cali Leasure noted that she was sharing her story Thursday night in hope that her words may bring peace to even just one person who experienced similar pain.
“I know it’s hard in the moment, but believe me, it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me. I am finally free of burden and worry. I am free of my own thoughts telling me I was in the wrong,” Leasure said.
OU senior Olivia Gemarro also shared her story and highlighted that women can be perpetrators of sexual violence, as her assailant was a woman.
“It’s no wonder that we rarely ever expect our assailants to be women,” Gemarro said. “At no fault of our own we lose that edge of fear and heightened sense of awareness that keeps us safe, because we aren’t told to consider the fact that the women we are inviting in have ill intentions.”
Community member Michael Weiser noted that it took years for him to talk about his assaults.
“This thing will never leave me. It will never be over, but I hold it differently now and it defines me less as time moves forward,” he said.
For many, it was a night of reflection and healing. Kristin Waltz, an advocate for the Survivor Advocacy Program, led the Cord Cutting Ceremony, which is a meditative process that can help participants “sever cords” binding them to emotional pain.
The cord cutting was an opportunity for attendees to allow their own power to be recognized within themselves, ultimately giving them the strength to “cut the cord” with their unwanted relationships.
Editor’s note: The Survivor Advocacy Outreach Program can be reached at 740-591-4266. More information about SAOP can be found at https://www.saopseoh.org/. Any Ohio University student can reach the university’s Survivor Advocacy Program at 740-597-7233, and more information about the program can be found at https://www.ohio.edu/survivor.