COLUMBIA — For the past 20 years, hundreds of community members have joined MU students to march through campus to protest violence toward women.
This year, the Take Back the Night march and rally will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday as part of Rape Awareness Week. The march starts at Memorial Union and continues in a loop that includes parts of Greek Town, Rollins Road, Hitt Street and Conley Avenue.
The pre-march rally will include speeches from two men who work with a group called Men Stopping Violence. The march will be followed by a private “speak-out” session for survivors and supporters to tell their stories.
The large response in years past is due to the resonating relevance of this issue worldwide, said Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention Center Coordinator Sharon Giles .
She said it is the biggest event of the year for the RSVP. Center, located in Brady Commons.
"This has been a really good format for survivors and supporters to stand up and say ‘Not in our town,’ ” Giles said.
According to a 1998 survey by the National Institute of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of every six American women have been victims of either attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
Giles, who worked as a counselor at a woman's shelter in Columbia before joining the RSVP six months ago, said she entered the field after a personal experience with violence. Many of her female friends have had something happen to them as well.
“I think it’s so entrenched in our culture that it affects so many people,” she said.
The Take Back the Night march provides an outlet for those women, their friends and family members, she said.
“It’s a real peaceful way to fight back.”
The march is not just an event to help survivors deal with past incidents; it is an opportunity to educate, Giles said.
Incoming freshmen women are the most vulnerable population for sexual assault on a college campus, according to Giles.
So while many groups have a similar march in the spring, the RSVP Center and the student anti-violence group Stronger Together Against Relationship and Sexual Violence, STARS, decided it is important to educate freshmen women soon after they arrive.
“We want to increase that awareness as soon as they hit the door,” Giles said.
Though some marches are women-only, men are invited to take part in this march.
STARS member and vice president Alyssa Ruth said she believes men are the only ones who can stop the violence.
“The more men we have with us, we’re gaining," Giles said. "We’re moving in the right direction."