Last Thursday, the Portland State Park Blocks became the gathering place for almost 300 people, uniting their bodies and voices for one evening to march through downtown Portland, with the common goal of “taking back the night.”
The march was organized by Amy Shattuck of the Women’s Resource Center at PSU, and held to raise awareness about issues relating to violence against women, including rape, sexual assault and abuse.
“Take Back the Night” is an event which has an international tradition originating in Belgium in 1976 when women marched in the streets to protest violence against women.
The evening kicked off with thoughts, poetry readings and words of wisdom from Portland community members including gubernatorial candidate Bev Stein, PSU University Studies professor Jack Straton, Outreach Women’s Services Volunteer Coordinator Traci Boyl and Jennifer Lavender from Radical Women.
“The irony of ‘Take Back the Night’ is that sometimes the streets are safer than private places, because 83 percent of rapes occur by men the women already know, and in familiar settings,” said Straton, founder of Men Against Rape and Men Against Sexism.
Straton urged the audience to take active roles in discouraging sexist behavior, “If you hear someone telling a sexist joke, like a broken record say to them, ‘I don’t like it when you talk about women that way.’ Intervention doesn’t have to be eloquent, it just has to be done.”
Alexander talked about the lack of empathy victims can receive from the police, and stressed the importance of sufficient rape kits, which aid in the prosecution of rapists.
“There is a subtle prejudice in a male dominated society against rape victims. Police don’t take rapes as seriously as other crimes,” Alexander said. “Cars are better protected in our society than women and I think that is a crime.”
Students from the Portland Community College Sylvania campus presented their Illumination Project, which consists of three women on stage and numerous others in the audience. They each say a statistic about rape, alternating in round and gradually all speaking at once, culminating in the unified chanting of one statement.
It began with the words, “Every 15 seconds a woman is battered,” and, “Every two minutes a woman is raped.” Barely audible, except to those near her, the littlest voice in the crowd, which resonated from the mouth of a 10-year-old girl, joined the hundreds of women and men by repeating the final statement, “Everyday a woman fights back.”
The Dancer’s Northwest Troupe of belly dancers then led the procession of women and men, which at times stretched 3 or 4 blocks in length, from PSU through downtown Portland chanting statements like, “Women’s bodies, women’s lives, we will not be victimized,” “Yes means yes, no means no. Whatever we wear, wherever we go,” and “2-4-6-8 no more date rape!”
The necessity for change in attitudes held by some against women rang clearly in the night, as a young boy in Pioneer Square threatened the parade of people by shouting, “You want me to rape you? Fuck you, mother fuckers!”
Traci Boyl and Jeff McCulloch, volunteers with the Men’s Anti-Violence Education Network, a conglomeration of anti-violence agencies, work together attempting to prevent children from becoming violent adults.
McCulloch explained his role as a volunteer, “We work with high school and middle school kids, some who come from violent households, and through discussions and play groups we work to challenge stereotypes and societal beliefs. They learn so many dangerous ideas everyday, so it’s a big challenge to try and change those ideas.”
For information about becoming a volunteer with the Men’s Anti-Violence Education Network contact Traci at 503-654-2807.
The event reached its final stages when the group arrived back at PSU where four drummers greeted them with pulsing drum beats. The belly dancers danced inside the forming circle as the darkness was illuminated by the lighting of hundreds of white candles.