By Dustin Slaughter and Joanne Stocker
A young African-American woman tearfully steps up to the microphone. She exhales slowly.
“I came here to support all of you,” she begins. “But halfway through listening to you, I realized I came here for myself too.”
And then, in front of a room packed with strangers, Susan (whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity) begins to tell the story of her assault by a serial rapist in Philadelphia. She relays the guilt she felt by not coming forward sooner, because she feels she might have prevented another woman from being attacked.
Guilt in various forms is a shocking and all too common emotion tonight, as excruciatingly intimate stories from survivors – mostly women, but some men – fill the First Unitarian Church, one after the other, exposing the horrific hidden epidemic of sexual violence that plagues communities across the country and planet.
“It’s important for us to be strong, to fight for ourselves. But we really need to change community norms,” another woman says as applause from the packed room erupts.
Those “community norms” include the everyday objectification of women, the widespread propagation of rape culture on college campuses and society in general, victim blaming, and so much more. It also includes some startling statistics, including the fact that only three out of 100 rapists in the United States will ever see jail time. Out of every 100 rapes, only 40 are reported. Of those, 10 actually lead to arrests, with just four of those cases leading to felony convictions, according to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). On college campuses, 70% of women know their assailants.
A National Institute of Justice report (2003) indicated that the most common reasons for not reporting rape and sexual assault include:
- Self-blame or guilt;
- Shame, embarrassment, or desire to keep the assault a private matter;
- Humiliation or fear of the perpetrator or other individual’s perceptions;
- Fear of not being believed or of being accused of playing a role in the crime;
- Lack of trust in the criminal justice system.
Listening to these unimaginably-brave survivors recount their abuse (and often for the very first time) exposes an extremely dark side to American society and our communities – namely, a criminal justice system that has largely failed survivors, and a culture quite often not equipped to embrace them.
That’s where Take Back the Night comes in. After launching here in Philadelphia in October 1975, it spread nationally and “internationally to college campuses, domestic violence centers, and other community locations to promote awareness about sexual and domestic violence, and to help survivors break their silence of living through such experiences,” according to Amanda Geraci, a four year organizer of Philadelphia’s TBTN events.
“I am helping out with Take Back the Night because as a survivor of abuse, I am well aware of the haunting loneliness of silence,” says Christine B. “My first experience with Take Back the Night was last year, and it was a unique event that linked me to survivors just like myself. I felt a strong connection to others just simply by listening to their words.”
Supporting organizations include: Women Against Abuse, Women in Transition, Women Organized Against Rape, and Hollaback Philly.
Please consider contributing to Take Back the Night Philadelphia, and help new survivors build the vital connections needed for recovery.