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In a Center City area gripped by feat of a serial rapist, women met to 'Take Back the Night.' Opening with the chant, "What do we want? Safe streets! When do we want it? Now!" various University women's groups held a Take Back the Night rally at Rittenhouse Square last night to unify the community against sexual violence. The event brought together about 50 men and women to the area of Center City being stalked by the serial rapist who police believe has committed at least six sexual assaults in the area, including the 1998 rape and strangling death of Wharton doctoral student Shannon Schieber. Speakers voiced their feelings about rape and sexual assault and discussed ways for people to protect themselves from such violent acts. "We are here to demonstrate the power of women's voices? to turn our fear into action," Penn Women's Center Director Elena DiLapi said. "Surviving is about our individual strength and this rally is about our collective strength." Several of the speakers echoed DiLapi's statement, emphasizing the importance of not only acknowledging the fear and anger brought about by the threat of rape and sexual assault, but also acting on those feelings to affect change. "You have to decide you are going to take control of how you feel, admit that you feel scared, that you feel vulnerable, and do something about it," self-defense instructor Mary Katherine Roper said. "You are the only person who can make yourself feel safer." The issue of the underreporting of rape was a major concern, prompting speakers to encourage people to talk about their sexual assaults. Doing so, they said, can help remove the stigma from victims of rape and catch perpetrators of sexual violence. Currently, only 30 percent of all rapes are reported and only one fifth of the cases result in a conviction, one speaker said. Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham sent out a personal plea to the crowd to reveal any information about any sexual assault or rapist, and in particular about the Center City rapist. "For those who have not reported a crime? please, I beg you, come forward and reveal those details about this horrendous incident," Abraham said. "This may give us the clue that we need." Roper used her speaking time to give some tips for making oneself less of a target for sexual assault, including carrying fewer items, wearing sensible shoes, walking with others and getting to know one's neighbors. Although she only had a few minutes to discuss how to defend against an attacker, Roper showed the crowd how to properly hit someone in the windpipe and outlined some of the most vulnerable and easily reached places on the body, including the eyes, knees and throat. "Know your strengths and resources, know how to exploit the weaknesses of the person who is attacking you," Roper said. "Anything in your hand or within your reach at the time you're being attacked is a weapon." In addition to fighting back individually, many attendees believed that the key to ending sexual violence lies in community. Pennsylvania State Sen. Shirley Kitchen spoke on behalf of women of the Senate offices and of North Philadelphia, expressing their support for the Center City community. "You are not alone in this struggle because when one woman is violated, then we all are," Kitchen said. "We cannot continue to just stand around and point and say 'it's not on my block' or 'it's not in my neighborhood.'" Overall, both organizers and attendees felt positively about the rally and its effects on the crowd and the community. "I am pleased that people gathered -- I think the folks who spoke? had really clear, strong messages to give," Penn Women's Law Project worker Debbie Rubin said. College senior Hema Sarangapani, chairperson of the Women's Alliance and one of the rally's organizers, agreed that the event was successful. Sarangapani said she "was pleased to see random people from the park joining along," in addition to those who knew about the rally in advance. She added that it was good to see both men and women in attendance. "I think people are really afraid and I hope this rally actually gave them the strength the deal with that fear in a very active way, in a proactive way," Sarangapani said.

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