A new student organization brought about 35 students together to rally against sexual assault and rape Monday night. Although the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance hosts an annual march and day of activities in October, the newly-formed Sexual Assault Awareness Alliance sponsored the first springtime rally.
The SAAA held its Take Back the Night event to coincide with Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a national campaign marked by thousands of events across the country.
Monday’s program included a march through campus and a rally on Strong Hall’s rooftop complete with poetry readings and story sharing.
SAAA program coordinator Melissa Tihinin said her group held the second Take Back the Night of the year to draw attention to Sexual Assault Awareness Month. October’s demonstrations commemorated Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
“We thought there needed to be two different voices,” said Tihinin, a graduate student. “We decided that marches would be held twice a year.”
The SAAA student organization began at the beginning of the semester. It is a joint effort between the Center for Alcohol and other Drug Education and Student Health Services.
Chanting slogans and displaying signs, about 25 students participated in the march, beginning at 9:20 p.m. Students in residence halls watched the procession from their windows as the marchers’ screams permeated the black night.
“We’re angry and we’re not going to be silent anymore,” said GW alumna Melisa Pardes, last year’s public relations director of the FMLA.
Pardes, a sexual assault survivor, expressed the need for sexual assault survivors to rebuild their self-confidence.
“We forget that we are strong,” she said.
Some observers, including a University Police officer, joined the march along the way.
“I was glad to see that people joined us while we were marching and that people were opening their windows to hear our message that sexual violence will not be tolerated on GW’s campus,” Tihinin said.
On display during the rally were T-shirts designed by GW students who are survivors of sexual violence. The messages and stories that were represented ranged from deep anger to an attest to strength.
“I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor,” one shirt read.
Before the march, students attended a rally on the rooftop of Strong Hall, where participants were encouraged to read poems and give their thoughts and experiences about sexual assault.
Some students said they participated although they were not sexual assault survivors.
Junior Glenna Stewart said while she knows rape victims she came to the rally for herself.
“Now I’m doing it for me,” Stewart said. ” I desperately feel the need to do my part.”
Ajia Meux, a counselor at the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, also spoke at Strong Hall. Meux discussed sexual violence in the context of society. She listed myths about rape survivors – including that they were weak, “wanted it” or were lying.
“Rape is not about sex,” she said. “It’s about power.”
The D.C. Rape Crisis Center, working in conjunction with Howard University, provides support to rape victims while they are examined in District- area hospitals. The center also organizes sexual assault awareness events in the community and runs a 24-hour sexual assault hotline.
Despite a smaller-than-expected turnout because of rain, organizers said they hoped the event would continue to draw support from students as they become more aware about sexual violence.
“The Take Back the Night event can only grow from here,” Tihinin said. “It was a powerful experience, and I’m confident the event will be even bigger next year”
The SAAA will be tabling in front of J Street and handing out information and resources about sexual assault throughout the month.
The organization will screen the half-hour documentary Rape Is on April 23 in the Thurston Hall TV lounge. A Rape Aggression Defense demonstration class will also be held April 29 at 8 p.m. in the Strong Hall Piano Lounge.
-Julie Gordon contributed to this report.