Many of them cried at the microphone. Many wiped away tears on the steps. Many applauded and hugged each other as candles flickered in the dusk air.
Everyone was silent as the speakers’ words echoed off of the stone, and yet the silence was louder than the chants a half an hour before.
The tears and the flicker of candles and the echoes of survivors were the sounds of people speaking out against sexual violence.
Approximately 200 students and faculty attended the Take Back the Night rally and march last night, according to event organizer and College senior Sarah Mednick. The Take Back the Night Committee, with the help of the Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention group, hosted the annual event in celebration of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Penn English Professor Salamishah Tillet and Vice President of Public Safety Maureen Rush spoke about sexual violence. Tillet, a sexual assault survivor, spoke of her struggles during her undergraduate years at Penn.
Rush began her talk by saying, “Sexual assault has been difficult to ignore this year, but this event is meant to show this campus that we don’t accept sexual violence.”
Hundreds of attendees then marched down Locust Walk. Members of the Penn Band played music as they chanted, “No more silence, no more violence.”
The event concluded at Wynn Commons, where several dozen survivors and witnesses of sexual violence spoke during an open-mic session and candlelit vigil. Attendees sat on the Wynn Commons steps.
“I thought I was over it. I realized it wasn’t really over,” one speaker said. “I hope no one underestimates how powerful these events are because I do really feel a lot better now.”
Event organizer, ASAP member and College senior Sonja Tonnesen said the sexual violence incidences of this year have made the issue impossible to ignore.
“The discussion on campus this year has broken down the barriers of conversation, and it has certainly given people the platform to hold major events, like this one,” Tonnesen said.
Penn Women’s Center Violence Prevention Educator Jessica Mertz agreed. “In light of recent events, more people are paying attention and want to speak out,” she said. “The amount of people who came reflects how much people understand that [sexual violence] happens.”
Though a tradition in Philadelphia for over 30 years, Take Back the Night was only revived on Penn campus last year with the initiative of Mertz and her staff.
Rush said more victims have come forward to report and seek help for sexual abuse this year. “This issue is important, and this movement has helped us to highlight it, to march about it, to talk about it,” she said.