On Monday, volunteers began hanging hundreds of T-shirts on the campus of Augusta State University. It looked like laundry day in the dorms.
But closer inspection revealed heart-wrenching messages from victims of violence.
“It grabs your attention,” said Anne Ealick Henry, executive director of Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault Services (RCSAS). “We always like to do a visual.”
It’s a way to take mind-numbing statistics and turn them into a provocative artistic, educational and healing tool for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
That’s what the annual Take Back the Night rally is about, she said: accelerating the change rate of cultural attitudes and responses about sexual violence.
“I feel that it’s so important to not only raise awareness, but also to have the opportunities to make change at all levels — whether it’s at a personal level, or at an agency level with policy changes or at the national level with law,” she said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation reports that, in 2006, the last year for which numbers are available, there were 14 reported rapes in Columbia County and 139 in Richmond County. Nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey, there were 272,350 sexual assaults in 2006. That works out to one sexual assault every 116 seconds, or about one every two minutes.
The rates of victimization have actually dropped 60 percent since 1993. Although no agency proposes to know exactly why, organizations like the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network suggest that increased public education and law enforcement awareness have impacted those numbers.
Still, Henry said the crime is underreported and more frequent than people may realize.
The organization sponsored a showing of the film “The Accused” at the college’s University Village residential facility recently.
“The comment was made that we’ve come a long way, but I feel like there’s still a long way to go,” Henry said. Take Back the Night strives to be part of the effort to reduce the number and frequency of rapes and sexual assaults.
The roots of the event Take Back the Night may lie in an 1877 protest held by women who objected to the fear and violence they experienced in darkened London streets. But its cause lies in a simple message from American author Henry David Thoreau: “It takes two people to speak the truth: One to speak and another to hear.”
Survivors of assault share their personal stories and RCSAS presents information on counseling and victim services. While they’ve had judges and advocates in the past, this year the organization will host an investigator for the first time, Scott Peebles, who will talk about the challenges and the triumphs that law enforcement faces.
Hands-on activities and exhibits round out the ceremonies, which culminate with a candlelight march around campus.
Take Back the Night
Augusta State University
Thursday, April 24