They ‘Take Back the Night’ in Ann Arbor:
Survivors call for ‘mutual respect’
In “Dead Man Walking,” Sean Penn plays a man on death row who co-murdered a couple after raping the woman. To the couple, Penn and his fellow felon played strangers; the two crept up on the couple’s car in the woods. They dragged them out and held the woman down as they raped her.
Now, replace the two perpetrators with one. Instead of a stranger, make him your boyfriend, girlfriend or friend. Instead of being held down, he or she makes you believe that you have no choice but to let this happen. And it’s not in the woods — it’s in your own house.
While the details won’t be the same in every case, most rape cases resemble the latter example. In fact, it’s rare for perpetrators to sexually assault complete strangers. When the attacker is someone the survivor knows, the incident becomes much more confusing, complicated and harder to report.
“Sexual assault happens with someone that we know 86 percent of the time,” said Jennifer Pasquale. “We’re not talking about ‘stranger danger.’ It is someone we know and that’s why it makes it so hard for a victim to disclose anything.”
Pasquale will be the rally keynote speaker for Ann Arbor’s chapter of Take Back the Night on April 8. The rally will take place on University of Michigan’s Diag two days after the survivor speak out on April 6. As a mother of a survivor, Pasquale brings a perspective that is not often heard, but certainly is not unique. She estimates that one in three women and one in six men are survivors.
“When someone’s rights are taken away from them without their full consent, it’s very traumatizing. That fear, anger or betrayal has a ripple effect and it touches the friends and loved ones of the victim as well,” Pasquale said.
For survivors Brittany Worley, 21, and Kelsey Clancy, 20, both juniors at UM, the speak out, rally and march provided by TBTN encouraged both of them to become active members in UM’s University Students Against Rape. Although Worley dragged Clancy to their first rally their freshman year in the pouring rain, both women now freely volunteer with USAP and TBTN, helping to apply for grants, ask for donations and organize.
“Six people isn’t a whole lot of people to pull something off like this,” Worley said. “It’s three events, but it’s three events in three weeks.”
The first event was a benefit for TBTN held on March 20. Now the volunteers are gearing up for the speak out, their most private event.
“Our philosophy with all of the events we do is that we want to support survivors. Our speak out is much more intimate. We do not invite reporters; we don’t even have chairs!” said Meghan Gallagher, co-student leader of University Students Against Rape.
“We do our ‘speak’ out in a small, intimate setting with pillows, blankets, chocolate… it’s more intimate than, ‘I’m going to get up in front of hundreds of people and speak about this thing,’” she said.
Unlike most TBTN rallies, marches and speak outs, the Ann Arbor chapter changed the events from being all in one night to being on separate nights. Since the speak out is completely different from the celebratory, loud rally and march, volunteers thought it would be best for survivors and their supporters to have a day to process everything after the speak out. Also, the volunteers found that the two events, while obviously related, weren’t necessarily conducive to each other.
“We find that the traditional model of going up to the podium and having all these people stare at you is really scary, especially for all these women telling their story for the first time,” Gallagher said.
The speak out will take place inside the Michigan League in the Kalamazoo Room. At 7 p.m. on April 6, survivors and their supporters are encouraged to come speak and listen. This year, the event has no end time and there will be counselors and peer support from SafeHouse Center.
“The last one that we had was planned for two hours and they started to kick us out of the room because we had gone over the time,” Gallagher said. “There weren’t necessarily that many people there, but when you’re surrounded by people that you feel supported by, a lot of people open up.”
After the initial speak out, attendees are welcome to stay and ask questions about sexual assault. The event is seen as an opportunity to talk about the issue since it is so often ignored or avoided.
“People don’t like to talk about sexual assault like a crime. It’s not like a robbery. People can talk about a robbery,” Gallagher said.
Pasquale sees this open sharing of information as one of the key ways to prevent sexual assault from happening. While she said that anything a survivor does to survive is courageous, she hopes that the survivors and supporters that choose to speak out know just how valuable their words are.
“We need to debunk that myth that a perpetrator might put out there saying, ‘You can’t tell because no one will believe you.’ If the whole community stands up and says, ‘Yes we can pal, and yes we will believe them,’ then we set an atmosphere where that perpetrator will think twice before they do that again,” Pasquale said.
For Pasquale, believing a survivor when they share their story is the most important thing a supporter can do. She cited the National Department of Justice, which says that 98 percent of the time, women and men that share their sexual assault stories are telling the truth. Pasquale also emphasized the importance of putting blame on the assaulter, not the survivor. She battled with this issue herself.
“As survivors and friends and family of survivors, they need to hear that it’s not their fault,” Pasquale said. “Of course you want to say, ‘Well, why didn’t I do this?’ or, ‘What if I would have kept her from doing that?’ It isn’t that because we’re not responsible for another person’s bad behavior.”
On April 8 at 7 p.m., survivors won’t be worrying about who believes them and who doesn’t. That’s when the rally starts.
With this celebration, survivors and their supporters will be aiding in the fight to prevent sexual assault. Besides, the volunteers acknowledge that the last thing a perpetrator would want is for their victim to be out on the streets condemning their actions. By doing this, the men and women involved gain back the control they once lost and demand they be treated like equals.
“The law says that if you are coerced into giving sex and there’s not equal power at the moment, that’s not consent,” Pasquale said. “What’s the opposite of sexual assault? Mutual respect.”
Fighting sexual violence in Ann Arbor just proves ‘You can’t beat a goddess’
If you don’t believe a slam poet performance belongs at a benefit for survivors of sexual assault and their families, don’t mention that to Ber-Henda Williams.
“If you don’t believe in the power of art, you’re just dumb,” said Williams, an author and poet from Southfield. “I try and say it nicely, but sometimes, especially because I’m so passionate about it, it doesn’t always execute well.”
Williams is, if you haven’t guessed, the slam poet who will be performing at the benefit on March 20, from 6-11 p.m., at Connor O’Neill’s in downtown Ann Arbor. The benefit is for the Ann Arbor chapter of Take Back the Night, a charity for the prevention of sexual violence and the support of its survivors.
“We all have a responsibility to do something about it, so this is my contribution and my way of doing it: to celebrate sisterhood universally,” Williams said. “One of my goals, even in poetry and mentoring young writers, is beginning to heal the patterns that shouldn’t have been started in the first place.”
For the past three years, Williams has worked in the education system. Domestic violence and sexual assault comes up regularly, even though the girls she works with are young.
“Seeing bruises on their faces—I know that you didn’t fall accidentally,” she said. “It hurts to see and I need to do something.”
Williams isn’t alone in her concern, and neither are survivors. While it’s impossible to know just how many survivors there are out there, Pam Swider, the community leader for Take Back the Night in Ann Arbor—and a survivor—estimates that one in three women and one in six men have been sexually assaulted.
“You may not be a survivor, but there’s a 99.99 percent chance that you know somebody that was. It happens among us, not to us,” Swider said.
The benefit that Swider helped organize will fund the upcoming TBTN rally, march and speak out. The speak out, which uses the least amount of funding, will be on April 6. The event provides survivors a chance to share and listen to each others’ experiences together and with supporters.
The march and rally, on the other hand, is more of a celebration. First, the rally begins with a keynote speaker and performers. Then, the entire group—which was estimated to be 200 strong last year—takes to the streets to protest sexual violence.
“I can’t even explain how it feels—it’s just so powerful,” said Karasten Birge, a volunteer with TBTN from Flint, and another survivor. “It’s easier to talk to people that may be survivors also. It’s a feeling of safety that was taken away from you, if you’re a survivor.”
It’s this feeling of safety that many survivors seek or simply find at a TBTN speak out, rally or march. Also, most survivors live with a feeling of shame, as if they caused their attack. While Birge knows that her attacker was at fault, she understands why survivors feel this way.
“It’s usually not just an attack from a stranger. It can be someone close to them, like a boyfriend. It’s hard to explain to someone that hasn’t been through it, and most the time you’re just afraid of being judged,” she said.
In recent years, there has been a movement in the TBTN community to include men in their events. Since men are survivors and supporters as well, Monica Habeck, the co-student leader for University Students Against Rape at the University of Michigan, thinks they deserve the same feeling of safety.
“Why should it only be discussed in the female population when sexual violence happens to everyone and anyone, any race, any color, any age? And anyone that supports a survivor, they’re not just going to be of a female gender base,” Habeck said. “It’s not a fight of female versus male at all.”
Habeck is another survivor who found comfort in TBTN. After attending the rallies and marches her freshman and sophomore years, she asked to become more involved.
Now, Habeck helps Swider, Birge and others on the TBTN team organize events like the benefit and writing grants. Because without the benefit, it would be hard to celebrate at the rally and march, especially since TBTN needs the city’s help to shut down the streets.
“The biggest costs are the city costs, although they do help us with those,” Swider said. “There are things like candle supplies, drums that we’ve made out of buckets, you know, that kind of thing. But the biggest hit that we would take is that we wouldn’t have enough money for the tents. If it rains, that would be a really bad thing.”
To ensure that enough money will be raised, 90 $25 tickets will be sold for the benefit. While the guests enjoy the food, performances and dancing, they’ll also have a chance to participate in a silent auction. Just a few of the items for sale include golf clubs, a bundle of movie tickets and a massage.
Even though Connor O’Neill’s is a bar, guests under 21 years of age will be allowed—and encouraged—to come. The room where the benefit is held is separate from the bar and has its own entrance, allowing the benefit to include these underage supporters.
While the benefit will address sexual violence, the event will be more like a party than a somber night.
“It is definitely a celebration. We come together to support each other,” Swider said.
To aid in the celebration, Williams will come prepared with her poetry and book, including two requested poems. One of the requested pieces is called “Woman for Short.” It addresses her embracement of her own power, a power she sees as archetypical for women. She addresses this powerful self through history-making women and goddesses in the poem.
“You can’t beat a goddess,” she said.
WOMAN FOR SHORT
By Ber-Henda Williams
My tears are single-handedly responsible for the creation of the Nile River and my blessed womb incubated all twelve tribes of Israel. Through my labor pains my children came into the world equipped with a steadfast perseverance. Through my agony my children will be peace makers and prepare the way of Zion. I am known by many names: Eve, Sheba, Nzinga, Mary Magdalene, to name a few, but folklore and mythology aside my inner workings are not that of legend. My supernatural gifts were forged and sculpted by a true mason and craftsmen. By my hand Solomon was embraced. I nurtured him in his infancy—he prayed for me in the days of his youth, so the Lord gave him WISDOM. Lest we forget I helped move an entire kingdom, my eyes were the windows to God’s door step. THE BEAUTIFUL ONE HAS COME—but you can call me Nefertiti. My rule was so scandalous, they tried to erase me from history, however every great man has a great woman surrounding him. You can love or hate, though I would rather you love me or have it your way. I am the fifth element. To spend the night with me is considered the eighth wonder of the world. You find me in everything and everyone. You can feel me in the air you breath… you call me mother, sister, wife, and lover, sometimes you call me bitch, vixen, Jezebel, rogue, and harlot! I am not manipulating the system, I am changing it! Now you be the pest papa, but mama is one to watch. So I am known to this world as divine mother, righteous wife, amorous sister and consummate lover. I can be all things and am all things but you may call me WOMAN for short.