Over a hundred students marched beside one another last night, holding signs and shouting to everyone who could hear: “Break the silence, end the violence!”
The march was part of Penn’s annual event Take Back the Night, a peaceful protest to speak out against domestic and sexual violence. The event — run by Penn’s student group Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention, with the help of the Penn Women’s Center and Penn’s all-male sexual assault peer education group One in Four, as well as other organizations — began on College Green with a rally. This was followed by an hour-long march around campus, and then a survivor vigil and speakout at Wynn Commons.
The keynote speaker for the rally was Ivone Falk , an alumna of Penn’s School of Social Policy & Practice, who was raped while in college. As she shared the details of her personal experience with sexual violence, audience members both cried and cheered in support.
“My life has been drastically altered but my spirit has not been shattered,” Falk said. After recovering from the physical injuries she received that night, Falk started speaking in classrooms at her undergraduate university, the University of California, San Diego, about sexual assault and was even interviewed by her local media station about her experience.
“So many women would approach me and would tell me that my story convinced them to come forward about their own abuse,” Falk said. “I think that’s the only thing that kept me going.”
College junior Joanna Kamhi, the chair of ASAP, said that Take Back the Night is intended to provide a safe space for survivors to share their stories and to help others rally in support.
“Unfortunately, this kind of space is rare in society today, given the systems and institutions in place that permit and condone sexual violence,” she said. “We’re here to celebrate the power of community and of mutual love and support, and the power that each one of us has to create these kinds of spaces in our daily lives.”
“No matter who you are, you should know that you can feel strong, proud and empowered,” College sophomore Cat Peirce, a member of ASAP said.
Other events at the rally included spoken word performances by students from The Excelano Project and a speech by Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush.
“I don’t have to tell you — we’ve had a tough, tough year. We’ve had mental health issues, we’ve had sexual assaults and we’ve had alcohol issues,” Rush said. “The only way that all of us in the administration can really take care of you is by encouraging you to take care of yourself and your friends. It’s the only way that we’re all going to protect each other.”
The rally also included the reading of a letter from Penn President Amy Gutmann, who was unable to attend the event. “Here, tonight in this battle, you are helping turn this tide,” the letter read. “You shatter the silence with your voices by speaking powerfully of your own experiences. You empower those that have been victim of sexual and relationship violence around the world and from every walk of life.”
Take Back the Night has been an annual event since it was re-established on campus in 2009 and had existed at Penn for many years before then as well. This year looked like the biggest turnout so far, members of ASAP said. By the time Falk finished speaking, more students were gathered around College Hall than the eye could see.
“I just realized that I was done feeling dirty, I was done feeling alone, I was done feeling robbed and I was done feeling ashamed,” Falk said. “I wasn’t alone. [Penn] truly helped me feel empowered — empowered to take back the night.”