MU to host Take Back the Night with a focus on sexual violence prevention

Thursday, September 17, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 8:31 a.m. CDT, Thursday, September 17, 2009

COLUMBIA — Kelley Lucero, coordinator for the sexual assault and outreach programs for The Shelter, estimates she works with 20 to 25 students a year who have been victims of sexual violence.

"It happens all the time," she said.

When Lucero addresses a rally on Thursday before the annual Take Back the Night march, her emphasis will be on encouraging bystanders to take a role in preventing sexual violence.

Take Back the Night has been held on campus  since MU started its rape education center about 20 years ago, said Sharon Giles, coordinator of  the Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention Center. Many colleges around the nation organize similar events.

MU chooses to hold the event in September because the most vulnerable population are the new freshman and sophomore women, Giles said.

“We try to spend September educating our campus community on what sexual violence is really like,” Giles said. “Our hope is that by getting information out early, we might be able to give students the truth about sexual violence: that over 80 percent of sexual assaults and rapes are committed by someone the victim is familiar with."

Take Back the Night is designed to break the silence on rape and sexual violence. The event will begin at 6 p.m. in Memorial Union's Stotler Lounge and includes a poster-making party along with the march and rally.

In order to prevent sexual violence, Lucero likes to focus her outreach education on what people can do as bystanders.

“There’s always people who know that this happens,” Lucero said. “The predators are not unseen. They’re not unknown. They tell stories about it afterwards.”

It is important for the people who witness those who might be vulnerable to attacks to speak up or do something about it, Lucero said

According to data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol, 1,424 arrests were made for sexual offenses and 312 arrests for forcible rape in Missouri since the beginning of this year.

In Columbia, 23 arrests have been made — 19 for sexual offenses and four for rape, according to the Highway Patrol.

The Rape and Sexual Violence Prevention Center, which is among the sponsors of the rally, also works towards integrating bystander intervention into its presentations.

“We try to teach folks how to possibly intervene, in a safe way, regarding issues that look potentially dangerous or that could lead to a sexual assault,” Giles said.  

Giles also said there is certain language and jokes that her educators tell people to stay away from.

"Sexist comments and jokes are statements that lead to the mentality that supports sexual violence," Giles said. "When good bystanders interrupt this kind of behavior, they are making a dent in the social norms that support sexual violence."

Lucero said another big problem is a blame-the-victim mentality.

“For everybody who hears about a sexual assault and immediately starts blaming the victim — wanting to know where she was, where’d she go, what’d she do — and you don’t even mention the perpetrator, you’re the problem,” Lucero said. “That’s what I’m fighting against.”

Lucero said that when people punish the victims, they discourage them from speaking out about the violence they experienced.

Time will be set aside for victims of sexual violence to share their experiences.

It's going to take more than just attending Take Back the Night to make a difference, Lucero said.

“If this is about taking back the night, it’s more than about yelling in the street, it’s about what you are going to do,” Lucero said. “If you’re not going to do anything about it, you are part of the problem.”

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