One survivor’s story
I participated in my first Take Back the Night event my freshman year of college. It was hard for me to admit, just by being there, to hundreds of perfect strangers that I was a sexual assault survivor, seeing that my own parents still don’t know. My first march, however, came with the bitter realization that so many other people will never have the resources to understand how to take back their bodies after being abused.
I was raped when I was sixteen. I have only said these words a handful of times, once to my therapist, another time to my ex-boyfriend, and it came up the first time I had sex with my current boyfriend. My roommate knows — living with a person for two years and sharing countless bottles of wine took care of that — and I guess, now you know too.
After it happened I hated my body. I hated that I felt as if I had no control over my limbs. I hated nauseating feeling in my stomach and the never ending heart palpitations. My lungs never had air in them — that was taken away from me, too. Junior year of high school went hand-in-hand with failing classes, failing to be my own person and pretending not to care that I was sexualized by boys and men around me, while going back home and hating that I would never find someone who could be able to look past my lack of hymen and self confidence.
During this time, I started running into articles on my Twitter feed about slut walks, sexual abuse and rape culture. Aside from the fact that it was really creepy that my social media accounts knew that I needed this information, these were my first encounters with sexual education that weren’t about reproductive health but about mental and emotional safety.
When I came to college, however, I got into the dangerous habit of sleeping with any man who gave me attention because for some reason, none of the articles outlined the importance of being comfortable saying the word “no.” I got into the dangerous habit of pushing myself to be comfortable in any sexual situation, even if I wasn’t, because in the back of my mind, if I wasn’t comfortable I had somehow lost. Take Back the Night showed me otherwise.
It was the first time that I did not feel ashamed about being raped. I think it was also the time when I truly realized it was not my fault. I was moved by the strength of everyone around me and the support so many of us had and proudly wore the crown of being a survivor. Through chants, spoken word poems and countless speakers, I slowly started realizing what taking back my body actually means: being comfortable within my limits and knowing that the only person who needs to want my body is myself. Granted, rape culture, the patriarchy, fetishization, and structural sexualization sometimes make it hard for me to remember these things, but I always go back to the space Take Back the Night created for me years back and am reminded that I am in charge of how being a survivor is perceived.
This is why Take Back the Night is so important. It is a space in which sexual education takes a new direction and truly teaches and empowers people to understand that there is so much more to “safe sex” than contraceptives. Access to spaces like these, however, is limited and should not only be found outside of schools and institutions but also be an integral part of sexual education. I should have been taught that rape is not just force, but coercion, bribery and blackmail. People should have access to conversations about emotional abuse and its ties to sexual abuse not every once in awhile, but in school when we’re learning how to have safe sex.
But most people do not have access to these resources, to this type of education or to spaces like Take Back the Night, and therefore won’t be exposed to these conversations and ideas either. Marches such as these are a great stepping stone to addressing what safe sex actually entails, but we have to recognize that the fact that we can allocate time to learn — or even care enough to march — is privilege; it is a privilege that should be a right.
We cannot simply ignore that being able to have these conversations is luxury, and if we are to truly embrace this issue then we must facilitate these conversations outside of liberal cities. We have to take them to low-income urban areas, poverty-ridden rural areas, and to every woman and man who is at risk of abuse — to people who do not have an access to education at all, especially about sex.
Ithaca’s 38th Take Back the Night march, rally and vigil is Friday, April 28 at 7 p.m. in the Ithaca Commons. Both survivors and allies are welcome to attend.
If you are a struggling as a survivor of sexual assault or concerned about a friend, reach out to the Advocacy Center’s 24-hour hotline at 607-277-5000.