What You Need To Need Know: Take Back The Night & the Survivor Speak-Out 2018

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Women’s Center is hosting its 6th consecutive Take Back the Night on Thursday, April 12th. Over the years, we’ve had a lot of questions about what Take Back the Night exactly is, why it looks the way it does, and how students can get involved. To help get those questions answered we started the “What You Need to Know” series focused on TBTN last year and are continuing on the tradition, so stay tuned for more posts over the next week. This is an updated post to last year’s information focusing on the survivor speak-out.

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View from the survivor speak-out at Take Back the Night 2015. 

The survivor speak-out is the heart of Take Back the Night. This is the point in the night where survivors are encouraged to come up and share their story with the crowd before the march throughout campus. As a survivor, sharing your story at TBTN allows you to publicly acknowledge your experience with a crowd that believes you and supports you.

Kayla Smith, UMBC Class of 2017, started the speak out in previous years and cherished that moment as a time where she could share her experience with people who she knew wouldn’t judge her. She could look out into a crowd of people who wouldn’t tell her its her fault, ask what she was wearing, ask if she was drinking, or tell her that she was responsible for her assault. “Speaking out about my assault empowers me to talk about my experience with confidence.”

This year we want to focus on dispelling the myth of the “perfect victim” that often times dominates sexual violence discourse. There are a variety of stories and experiences that are shared during the speak- out. Some may share stories or healing while others are still angry, sad, or scared. Many stories may come from women-identified folks and/but male survivors are also invited to share their stories at the speak-out. All of our stories and experiences are valid. And, no matter where you are at in your experience as a survivor (i.e. your assault happened 10 years ago or just last week) or what your identities may be, you’re welcomed to share your story.   

Credit Jaedon Huie28

Former Women’s Center Student Staff Member Kayla Smith speaking to the crowd at TBTN 2017. (Photo Credit: Jaedon Huie)

If you’re thinking about speaking at Take Back the Night, feel free to reach out to Women’s Center staff ahead of time if you feel like it would be helpful to talk to someone ahead of time about your story and how you may want to share it. Of course, we know many survivors may not plan on speaking at TBTN and then feel called to do so once the speak-out begins and that’s okay! If you feel uncomfortable sharing during the speak-out, that’s also 100% okay! There will be a chance to be recognized during the March at the Survivor Circle (which will be a new part of this year’s march – stay tuned for our updated What You Need to Know about the March post for more details!) or discuss your experience in a more intimate setting at We Believe You’s survivor discussion group post march.

It’s also totally okay if don’t feel ready to share your story at Take Back the Night there’s many other ways you can share your story in less public ways throughout Sexual Assault Awareness Month (like making a t-shirt for the Clothesline Project or attending the Monument Quilt workshop or the other ways at TBTN we mentioned in the above paragraph) and Take Back the Night (counselors will be available throughout the event and there will be the self-care station). Survivors or anyone impacted by sexual violence can also always schedule a time to talk to Women’s Center staff – we’re quasi-confidential resources on campus and can link you to additional support and resources.

Here’s some helpful information about the speak-out we think is helpful for everyone to know whether they’re speaking or listening:

  • Any one can be a survivor of sexual violence. Any survivor regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation is welcomed to share their story at the speak-out. At the beginning of TBTN’s creation the speak out was only for women, but we welcome men and all others who may have differing gender identities to speak out. We wish for the speak out to be an inclusive space of healing and representation of different identities can help dispel the dangerous “perfect victim” narrative.
  • The survivor speak-out is intended to center the voices and experience of survivors of sexual violence. The speak-out is for allies to listen and survivors to break their silence. Thank you in advanced for respecting this request. Allies are also encouraged to attend the Women’s Center workshop on Supporting Survivors of Sexual Violence on 4/26. A faculty and staff version of the workshop will be held on 4/3. 
  • Since TBTN functions as a public forum, normal reporting procedures look a bit different. If you choose to share your story, and want to go no further in the reporting process, we encourage you not to disclose any names or other specific identifying information, such as locations or familial relationships, as those details may prompt staff to follow up with you for reporting matters. Staff are available at the event for those who do want additional resources and want to report their experience through UMBC’s Title IX reporting process or police.
  • We ask that you try to limit your story to about 3 minutes. We know it may be hard to do so but we want to make sure as many survivors as possible can speak during the allotted speak out time which is one hour long. If you’d like to continue sharing your story, you may want to go to the We Believe You discussion group after the Take Back the Night march.
  • Speakers will have the option to identify their story as confidential by placing a sign marked “confidential” on the microphone. Speaking from the “confidential” microphone prohibits anyone from taking pictures, quotes, or recording of any kind.
  • Counselors-On-Call will be available throughout the evening. Any one needing additional support or simply needs to take a break are invited to visit the self-care station that will be set up in the Commuter Lounge.

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For more information about UMBC’s TBTN (check out Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter too by searching the hashtag #UMBCTBTN):

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Dear Survivor

This guest post was written by a UMBC community member who has asked to remain anonymous to allow for privacy while sharing this important experience. 

***Content Note: This post contains detailed descriptions of physical threats and sexual violence, and mentions of suicidal ideation. Please practice self-care while reading.*** 

Dear Survivor,

I would like to tell you my story of survival. I think that maybe, just maybe, it could provide you with something that will be helpful. I hope that it will. As a survivor myself, I know that lots of people have reacted to me in ways that minimized my experience, or, in contrast, made my experience into the thing that defined me. Both felt like shit. Both made me feel trapped.

I don’t want to do that to you. Instead, I want to show you a path to a future in which your survival matters, but the specific things you have survived are just a distant footnote in your memory.

2017-04-11 11.57.09

Dear Survivor letters created at UMBC’s Take Back the Night offer messages of solidarity.

I want to tell you some details about my story. It happened 25 years ago.

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Dear Survivor

As part of our 2015 Take Back The Night post-event, the Women’s Center hosted a “Dear Survivor,” letter writing activity. Inspired by the Dear Survivor Project and the book,  Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence students and UMBC community members were invited to craft their own “Dear Survivor” letter or message. Here’s a sampling from just some of the powerful messages written by UMBC community members.
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