Women testify about surviving the scars of sexual assault

    Photo by Tom Giratikanon / North by Northwestern

    About 80 people marched up Sheridan Road Thursday night to spread awareness about sexual assault.

    On the ground floor of Norris, a group of men and women sat with their bodies bent forward towards a scratchy microphone. Some were crying. A group of girls sat at a table
    holding hands.

    A girl walked to the microphone stand. As dozens of eyes followed her, McCormick junior Anna Xu quietly began her story about how she beat off an attacker when she working as a bartender near the Belmont El stop.

    “My first instinct having studied martial arts for the majority of my life was to defend myself,” she said. “I stuck my stiletto heel into his leg…and ran for dear life.

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    Colleen Nathan spoke about overcoming rape at the Rock Thursday night. She’s a board member of Anne’s Home, a shelter in Evanston for victims of sexual assault.

    “When I got back to campus I was so scared. I ran straight from the El platform to the police station, and when I told them my story they really didn’t believe me,” Xu said. “But two days later I got a call that they had identified my attacker by a two-inch gash in his calf.”

    Xu’s story of success was the only one told in the open-mike session during Thursday night’s “Take Back the Night” event, sponsored by the College Feminists. The night, a tradition at Northwestern since 1986, includes a march to create awareness for sexual assault, rape and violence against women, and also offers an opportunity for anyone whose life has been affected by sexual assault to break the silence.

    After a series of speeches at the Rock at about 7 p.m., the marchers traveled north along Sheridan Road armed with neon-colored signs and the lyrics to a chant. From Sheridan they circled south through the fraternity quad and went into Norris, where the open-mike session was held.

    Cars driving by the marchers stopped to honk at the group and gave them thumbs-up signs as they chanted, “No more violence, no more rape, no more silence, no more hate! We want freedom, we want rights, we are taking back our nights!”

    Rachel Weeks, a Communication sophomore, said participating in the event is crucial, even on a seemingly safe campus like Northwestern’s.

    “It’s an issue that we all have to support, because when you are a victim of sexual assault, your life changes in an instant,” Weeks said. “Spreading awareness of how to stay safe and who to talk to is really important.”

    Elisabeth Lindsay-Ryan, director of programs for the Women’s Center at Northwestern, describes sexual assault as a crime that is impossible to escape.

    “No matter what the crime is, it’s very hard to get over it and move on,” Lindsay-Ryan said. “But with sexual violence, it’s a whole different experience because you can’t get away from the crime scene. It doesn’t mean we can’t ever heal, but we have to heal in a very different way.”

    Men and women participated in the event, although Greek participation seemed to be lacking. Diana Theobald, a junior Communication major and a member of Delta Zeta, said last year the sorority gave strong support to “Take Back the Night” to hear a senior member speak. The lack of a Delta Zeta speaker this year may have hurt attendance, Theobald said.

    “Maybe they don’t realize they need to come out because they don’t feel personally attached to the issue,” she said.

    (Full disclosure: The writer is also a member of Delta Zeta.)

    Medill sophomore Ashley Keyser, who organized the event along with Weinberg senior Rupali Sharma, said she was disappointed more people did not come but was inspired by the experiences shared in Norris.

    “It’s cold out, so I understand,” Keyser said. “I think just the fact that this amount of people who came with really moving stories is really powerful.”

    Video filmed, edited and produced by Tom Giratikanon and Robert Quick.


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