As you walk through campus this week, you may notice an addition to the landscape of green and turquoise campaign signs: five hundred purple posts, numbered one through 500, with the letters TBTN on them. TBTN means Take Back the Night, which is an international organization dedicated to raising awareness about sexual assault and to empowering its survivors. According to recent Clery Reports, which are lists of reported crimes related to colleges, there are about 25 sexual assaults reported to the UCSB Police Dept., the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Dept., and I.V. Foot Patrol every year. Nationwide surveys of university women indicate that only 5 percent of sexual assaults are reported to the police, which means that approximately 500 sexual assaults happen in our community every year.
These statistics generate a range of responses. Many people simply do not want to believe that sexual assault is so prevalent in our community. When you take into account, however, that sexual assault is defined as unwanted contact of a sexual nature, ass-grabbing on DP is revealed for what it really is: an infringement on the body of another person. Also, a lot of people question why more survivors do not report the assault. One of the most common reasons is our culture’s tendency to blame the person who was assaulted. Excuses like “She was drunk,” “She’s such a slut, she would have slept with him anyway,” or “Well, look at how she was dressed,” only serve to take the blame away from the assailant and reinforce the idea that the women – and men – who are assaulted provoked the attack.
Also, some people do not report sexual assaults for fear that they will not be believed. Contrary to popular belief, there is virtually no benefit to falsely reporting rape. Coming forward as a survivor often means jeopardizing one’s reputation. It is not a tool for getting revenge on someone, nor a response to regretted sex. The difference between regretted sex and rape is that all parties have control over the situation during regretted sex, whereas rape is an expression of power by one partner over the other, and there is no choice involved.
Take Back the Night recognizes the prevalence of this culture on our UCSB community and the world. That is why we seek to raise awareness about sexual assault, and provide a space for healing. Most of the time, the word that is used to describe people who have been sexually assaulted is “victim.” Take Back the Night’s mission statement asserts that it is about “transforming victims into survivors.” We embrace the idea of “aiding women in finding and demonstrating their empowerment, providing a forum for women to make their voices heard and creating an environment in which survivors of sexual assault can begin to heal.”
We offer many events this week to fulfill this mission; full calendars are available in the Women’s Center. On Monday, we had our opening rally on the Women’s Center lawn and a movie in the MultiCultural Center. Today and Wednesday we are offering safe spaces for survivors of different identities in the Women’s Center from 11 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Also today Students Stopping Rape is holding a workshop at 6 p.m. on how to help a friend who has been sexually assaulted and at 7 p.m. there is a self-defense workshop. Thursday is the date of our rally in Anisq’ Oyo’ Park beginning at 5 p.m. We have a great lineup of student performers and bands, as well as a keynote speech from professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani. At that point, the women march through Isla Vista to “take back the night,” and upon returning to the park, there is an open mic for testimonials from survivors. We plan to stay in the park until everyone who wants to speak is heard.
We invite you all to take a break from the divisive political climate that tends to emerge around this time of year, and take a stand against sexual assault. We understand that survivors come in all shapes, colors, creeds, genders and ideologies. Therefore, we are a completely apolitical organization, and are not affiliated with, nor involved in, any campus, local, statewide or nationwide political parties or campaigns. The members of Take Back the Night are simply committed to empowering and encouraging others, and all are welcome. Together, we can reduce the number of purple posts around campus to zero.
Jessie Nieblas is a sophomore women’s studies and history major and a co-chair of Take Back the Night.