Chicago makes the news for violence pretty regularly -- gang shootings, high school students beaten to death by other students, police torture under police commanders like John Burge -- it's an infamous city. Having a controversial president from our city has only increased the scrutiny of Chicago violence during the last few years.
The violence that doesn't get much attention in Chicago is the routine and relentless violence against women and girls that occurs every day -- dating violence, date rape, intimate partner violence, stalking. At Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, an urban commuter university that serves many first generation college students, we surveyed our students and found that a shocking 83 percent had experienced some form of violence -- emotional, physical or sexual. More than 40 percent of women students reported some kind of sexual violence.
In that context, our Feminist Collective student group and our Women's and Gender Studies program work together to make sure there's a place to talk about these experiences and the questions they raise. Our Take Back the Night event, organized by students, breaks the silence around violence. As Viki Peer, one of this year's organizers, put it:
"Our TBTN event was a wonderful blend of information and inspiration. We had really great guest speakers who were excellent sources of information about sexual violence, violence against women, the troubles with hegemonic masculinity, rape culture, safety and what it means to feel safe, and the long term effects of domestic violence (for all parties involved)."
A fabulous and inspiring spoken word artist, Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, performed, followed by a self-defense mini-lesson by our black-belt-in-karate-retired-feminist-sociology-professor Martha Thompson.
"We ended our event with a speak-out: a time for people to come forward and share their stories. This was certainly the most powerful portion of our event because all of the testimonies were from strong women who have experienced tremendous harm but are working through that harm in ways that work best for them. It's safe to say that anyone who attended our event left with more information than they came with and hopefully with a stronger sense of community support, too."
For some of us older feminists, Take Back the Night events are old hat. The first one I helped organize was in Los Angeles in 1987, a community event responding to a serial killer of African American women. But three decades later, every time I participate with young women who are new to the movement, I am inspired again by the power of breaking the silence and sharing how to heal and make change. Every time a student shares her story, either crying quietly in my office or standing up at a public event, I know that we just have to keep going. These events are not the whole story, but they are a part of making the cultural changes that we need, so that Chicago, and every other city, town, village and rural setting is safe for women and girls. Yes, we need to stop the infamous street violence and institutionalized violence. But making violence between people in intimate relationships unacceptable, rather than routine, is an agenda we must continue to press. We need to take back the night, the day, the streets, the kitchens and bedrooms, and speak out!
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 by RAINN. For more resources, visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center's website.