Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 2015
Model: Jennifer Grabel
Photography by Tony Ward, Copyright 1993.
Posted on April 27, 2015
On a recent Thursday evening, as the sun started to set on Penn’s college green, students began to gather there in solidarity. The reason: Take Back The Night, a nationwide peaceful protest that focuses on eliminating sexual and domestic violence. A poster making session had been held the night before at the Penn Women’s Center, and numerous brightly colored signs were created for the cause. The signs were distributed to all of the students, faculty, and other protesters who joined the Take Back the Night rally and march. A small speaker series took place at six pm on the stairs of college hall. Despite the vivid neon posters that littered the grass around them, the atmosphere was surprisingly somber and thoughtful, as the partakers listened intently to the shocking statistics and stories of sexual assault.
Immediately following the speakers, the energy suddenly reversed from solemn to lively. Protesters quickly filled in the ranks and began to march behind the Take Back the Night leaders. The massive protest looped throughout the entire campus with the beat of drums, and sounds of shouting and chanting filling the air. It was remarkable to witness the passion of these students, teachers and others alike, standing up and speaking out against sexual violence. But up to this point, I had felt like an outsider to the event, walking on the peripheries and hiding behind the lens of my camera.
It wasn’t until I was forced to put my camera down that realized my true purpose of being there. Photography was not permitted at the final installment of Take Back the Night, so what is not pictured in this article is the beautiful candle light vigil that took place at the end of the walk. The steps of Wynn Commons were filled with supporters and survivors and candles and blankets were passed out to everyone. At the center of the small stage, a single microphone stood surrounded by a semi circle of flickering candles. Anyone was invited to go up and share his or her stories. The ambiance in that mini amphitheater was like nothing I had every experienced before. The stories that were shared evoked diverse emotions; unbelievable sadness for what these individuals had endured but also great inspiration because of the bravery it took to reveal their experiences.
As I sat there on the cold stone steps, listening to the stories, watching the delicate flame of my candle waver in the wind, I understood what a truly exceptional event this was. Not only does Take Back the Night advocate for the abolition of sexual abuse and assault, but it also provides a setting for those seeking solace and support, including myself.
April 13th, 2012. That was the night I had the opportunity to take back because of this wonderful and empowering event. Although I was not able to find the strength within me to share my story at the vigil, I walked away from the event knowing that I am a survivor and not a victim. For too long I have blamed myself for my rape, for putting myself in a vulnerable position and allowing such an awful experience to happen to me. But after sitting on those steps of Wynne Commons, listening to other survivors break the silence to end the violence, I realized that what happened to me was not my fault and that I am, in no way, responsible for my assault. Attending Take Back The Night was one of the best experiences of my life. I had the chance to take back a night I never wanted to happen and replace it with the amazing memories I made at this peaceful protest.
Editor’s Note: The author elects to remain anonymous.