Friday's assault -- and three other attacks in the same area within the last 20 months -- highlights the dire need for efforts like Take Back the Night. Campaigns to stop violence against women, to educate the public on sexual assault and to support victims of such attacks play a crucial role in a society in which 20 percent of women will be the victims of rape at some point in their lives. Frustratingly, however, Take Back the Night routinely falls far short of achieving its stated goals. Instead of staying focused on sexual violence, the event annually becomes mired in controversies, forcing its objectives to the periphery. Refocusing the program would eliminate those controversies and put the spotlight where it belongs -- on increasing awareness and prevention of sexual assaults. A rally that condemns violence should not project an image of virulence, militancy and exclusivity. Whether intentional or not, chants like, "We're here, we're women, we're fabulous, don't fuck with us," suggest a vicious loathing of men. Granted, hatred towards attackers -- the vast majority of whom are men -- is well-deserved. But the vast majority of men are not attackers -- a distinction that Take Back the Night participants seem to ignore with such exclamations. What's more, this year's attendees went so far as to accost University officials. "University silence perpetuates the violence," they roared throughout campus, seemingly pitting female Penn students against Penn administrators. Yet the University, through such mechanisms as the Penn Women's Center and the Student Health Service, more than adequately supports victims of sexual assault. Susan Hawkins alone, the University's point person on incidents of sexual violence, spends countless hours with victims of such crimes. Given such services, activists should emphasize the University's offerings, not condemn administrators. After all, if Take Back the Night is aimed at educating people about sexual violence, the University's programming deserves extra attention. With education and awareness the goal, Take Back the Night organizers need to also put an end to the issue of male participation. Each of the last six years, men on campus have questioned why they have been excluded from all or part of Take Back the Night. This year, the organizers discouraged men from participating in the march but permitted them to take part in the Speak-Out. Last year, organizers allowed just the opposite. In 1997, the debate over the role of men reached its peak when School of Arts and Sciences graduate student Litty Paxton exclaimed at the Speak-Out, "This is the one bloody night of the year that we ask you, as men, to shut up and listen." Discouraging men from attending the march, she added, "I don't need you to be there, OK? I don't need you to hold my hand." Such comments do more harm than good. Beyond once again pitting men against women, excluding men from Take Back the Night results in a lower level of awareness. Indeed, half the population -- the half that many feel would benefit the most from actively participating in the event -- cannot benefit from the event's whole message. Excluding men from even part of the rally has also historically garnered more attention than the event itself, again making it difficult for the evening's message to reach the public. As a result, organizers would do best to neither discourage nor encourage male participation in the rally. By putting gender aside, the spotlight can remain on the issue at hand. The inclusion of men also has the potential to spark further productive discussion. Nor are concerns about the presence of men diverting attention from the evening's appropriate focus on women well-founded. The night's focus will remain on women so long as they are, sadly, the primary target of sexual violence. Indeed, the elimination of such boundaries and of the event's militant image would go a long way to achieving the goals outlined by event organizer and College junior Erin Healy: "to give a voice to the victim-survivors and raise support and education about sexual violence."Comments powered by Disqus
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