About 80 students rallied against rape and sexual assault Friday in Kogan Plaza, taking part in the annual Take Back the Night, a national event to end violence against women.
Participants lent support to rape survivors who shared stories, songs and artwork and marched through campus to speak out against sexual assault.
“I was raped when I was 12,” said senior Melisa Pardes, public relations chair for the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance on campus, the group that organized the event. “I didn’t think about it. That’s when I started my downward spiral of alcohol, drugs and dating boys that are not nice. I cut myself until I was 17, then I sought therapy. I don’t cry when I tell my story, and that’s really sad.”
The FMLA includes organizations on college campuses under the Feminist Majority Foundation, a national women’s rights group. FMLA President Jen Heitel, a junior, said the group is an organization for anyone who advocates social, economic and political equality for women.
Pardes helped start a support group through FMLA at GW to help other rape victims. The group refers victims to hotlines, other support groups, the D.C. Rape Crisis Center and the GW Counseling Center, Pardes said.
Take Back the Night takes place on college campuses all over the country. The goal of the event is to raise awareness and end violence against women and men.
Pardes said Take Back the Night is not just about rape but also addresses sexual assault, dating violence, child sexual abuse and incest.
“I am not the only one,” Pardes said. “(Victims) should reach out to (supporters), and they will be there for you.”
Women should not be afraid to “walk out their doors” because they feel threatened by violence, Pardes said.
Others encouraged by Pardes’s story shared their experiences later in the night during an open-mic session.
“This is my first time coming here; I am a rape survivor,” a sophomore female said at the podium. “It wasn’t a stranger (who raped me). When I told my parents, they gave me no support.”
According to the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, in more than 70 percent of all cases, the rapist is a friend or acquaintance.
Another sophomore FMLA member said she was forced to have oral sex while intoxicated on campus last year. She said many people do not think of forced oral sex as rape and tend to discredit incidents of sexual assault if the victim is intoxicated at the time. The sophomore said she did not get the support she needed from close family and friends.
Pardes said her support group can help any rape victim report an assault, but usually the incidents get reported too late.
“I couldn’t say the words out loud, even years after it happened,” one junior said. “I was 15 when I was raped. My freshman year, I had a breakdown.”
The junior said she found help through the FMLA’s support group and discovered that many other people felt the same way she did.
The FMLA event began at 2 p.m. with activities, survivor poetry and art and informational pamphlets. FMLA members distributed purple ribbons symbolizing the fight against domestic violence and displayed T-shirts painted by student survivors.
Other survivors made new shirts for the National Clothesline Project, a program that began in 1990 in Massachusetts to display shirts that capture the feelings of rape victims.
One shirt depicted the toy Mr. Potato Head and implied a victim’s loss of innocence after being raped by her father.
“I saw Mr. Potato Head (on a shirt), and then I read what was on it,” junior Phil Hughes said. “It was absolutely horrible, not at all what I expected.”
The rally started at 7 p.m. and included a self-defense simulation and musical performances.
Rodney Barnett, UPD coordinator of crime prevention and training, demonstrated several defense simulations.
“We usually want you to run if you can,” Barnett said after a demonstrator squared off with her pretend assailant.
Barnett said UPD’s Rape Aggression Defense program helps about 30 women each semester learn techniques to protect themselves.
Other victims and supporters read poems or sang songs about their experiences.
Speakers discussed men’s responsibility to be non-violent and rape between gay or transgender individuals. The GW Pitches sang three songs in honor of the victims.
The FMLA members then led the crowd on a march through campus chanting “What do we want? No more rape. When do we want it? Now.”
The march headed through the Academic Center, where the group stopped to hold hands and offer a moment of silence for victims.
“No means no, yes means yes,” shouted the students as they marched down 23rd Street toward the Smith Center. As they neared fraternity houses and residence halls they yelled, “Out of the dorms, into the streets. No more women raped and beat.”
Bystanders shouted back, “Feminism rocks,” while others replied, “It’s good to be a man.”
The group made its way down F Street, passed Thurston Hall and drew some taunting fraternity members out of their houses on G Street.
Students also said they were aware of males who have been raped.
According to the Department of Justice, about 10 percent of sexual assault victims are male.
A candelight vigil to commemorate the victims followed the march.
“I have never felt so comfortable with a group of people about a topic as controversial as rape,” junior Kate Wolfson said.
Senior and FMLA member Ricki Weisberg said that apathy about rape on campus is a concern.
“This problem is so real and concrete, it affects everybody and it’s really scary,” Weisberg said. “I’ve never walked around and screamed before . everyone should go around screaming.”