"The gentleman who raped me is friends with my boyfriend." I felt the hair on my arm physically move as we were all seated in the auditorium. Stories were being shared by survivors after our walk for Take Back The Night. Walk is different from March. March is different from Rally. Rallies mean we are making noise. Annoying. Imploring. Action focused.
This was a walk. We were comfortably walking in solidarity and silence. We were in the South. Women were seen but not heard, perhaps.
I was born down South, and had heard the word "gentleman" a thousand times, but never as a descriptor for a rapist. I marveled as she spoke. Deep blue mascara and glossy hair. Nails were sheen of sky blue. It was her composure and perfect makeup that wowed me.
The air was a tad muggy, but that didn't prevent perfect hair in a rainbow of blond shades from attending, mine included. I was sitting amid mini-skirts and adorable flats. The room filled with stories of rape, abuse, molestation and dating violence. Pain and hurt clad in Juicy Couture.
It's April, aka Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and there are hundreds of Take Back The Night Events happening around the country. No two are alike. There are clanging pots and pans on an Ivy campus, and "Born This Way" concerts on the quad in California. Down the street from the Amish farm is a campus march set up with the intricacy and police escort of a royal wedding. In Chicago, we wrote the names of our rapists, attackers and abusers on scraps of paper; lit them on fire and threw the hate into a rusted oil drum.
Attendees wear all black with glow sticks and glow bracelets in the Midwest, and yoga pants and tank tops on the Gold Coast. There are those who would walk naked to prove the point of skin showing does not mean sex. Forty years ago there were bed sheets dyed black and broom handles with a bouquet of tampons clamped on the top in Florida. Thirty years ago there were women walking the Hollywood stars to protest pornography, harassment and abuse.
Two decades ago, it was "Women Unite. Take Back The Night." "2-4-6-8, No more date rape." "Wherever we go, whatever we wear; Yes means Yes and No means No."
Now you hear, "Women and Men Unite. Take Back The Night."
Yes, we have been marching for our cause for quite some time. The mileage is impressive, but how much law and practice ground have we covered? Take Back The Night grew from those who had been bold, reckless, fearless, fearful and willing to be seen in public stating the violence must stop.
We added men slowly and cautiously. Sometimes because they asked to carry the tissues. Sometimes because they asked to walk and were willing to walk at the end of the line. Now, it is because they are both supporters and recognized victims. It is still problematic that most of the perpetrators are men.
The TBTN Foundation is inclusive of all who will stand with us, walk with us and march with us. We are pleading, yelling, screaming, whispering and wondering when more will join us to light up the darkness.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.
Need help? In the U.S., visit the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline operated byRAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.
Follow Katie Koestner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TBTNFoundation