GW women fight violence with fire

Flames burst out of one GW student’s mouth on the H Street Terrace Thursday as she attempted to eat fire while attending Take Back the Night, an annual march against violence.

The fire will not consume us. We take it and make it our own, chanted the D.C. Lesbian Avengers, who taught the student volunteers how to eat fire. The Avengers began eating fire in protest after the D.C. home of a gay man and a lesbian was fire bombed.

The Lesbian Avengers joined about 100 other guests and activists for Take Back the Night, a rally that began in San Francisco in 1978 and has become a tradition for colleges and universities nationwide.

For the first time in recent history, GW organizers invited men to march with women following the open-microphone hour on the terrace. In the past, male and female attendees separated before the march and candlelight vigil, which followed the speakers.

One male GW student said men must do their part to end violence as well.

He said he recalled a conversation in which one of his male friends laughed about how he and his roommates had placed a banana in the vagina of a young woman who was passed out and naked in their residence hall room.

The man on stage said he was ashamed of their behavior and said men should not tolerate snickering or joking about something serious like sexual assault or harassment. One woman after another approached the podium, with tears in their eyes, with friends by their side, to tell their stories.

One student who said she was raped in a GW residence hall in 1996 said the University let her rapist get away with the crime.

After a night of drinking with her friends at a party, she returned to her residence hall, and the next morning a male friend told her she needed to go to the doctor because one of the condoms broke, she said. She said she knew she had not consented.

She reported the rape to GW officials and went through the University’s judicial process. A panel of four student judges found the young man not in violation, the woman said.

It didn’t happen as far as the University is concerned, she said.

She gave advice to the crowd.

Kissing doesn’t give consent, she said. Fooling around doesn’t give consent.

Another woman, who performed earlier in the night along with GW’s all-female a cappella group the Pitches, gave moral support to a friend who revealed she had been raped before coming to GW. She said friends of victims have a responsibility to help.

Being an ear for my friend was the most important thing I’ve done in my life, she said.

T-shirts swung from a clothesline behind the podium. The T-shirts have had special meaning for GW students since 1994, when women’s studies graduate student Nicole Paul was raped and killed in her D.C. home.

Through all her work and education to stop the violence, it came right in her face, said Marcie Beigel, one of the event organizers.

Danielle Rehfeld of the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance said women should pay attention to their natural reaction to people.

That feeling you get inside you, when you’re uncomfortable, act on your instincts, she said.

The organizers of the event also announced a list of demands for the University before marching the streets of GW’s campus. The list included more functioning blue lights, more sexual awareness education at Colonial Inauguration and emergency phones in the bathrooms.

Marty Langelan, who organized the first Take Back the Night in D.C. in 1979, taught the audience a bit about self-defense. She said the key to defense is confidence and having the ability to give commands.

Langelan told the audience members to put their hands on their hips and push their shoulders back. She asked them to pretend someone was touching them in an uncomfortable way. Langelam said her goal was to teach the audience how to give commands.

The whole crowd shouted in unison.

Take your hands off me, the audience said.

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