Post submitted by Meg Moran
Take Back the Night, often abbreviated as TBTN, is an international event that has its origins in Belgium. Take Back the Night earned its name after a rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania after a poem was read at the rally. Today, the main purpose of the event is to spread awareness about sexual assault and support survivors whether they are ready to speak up and share their story or if they’re still coming to terms with what had happened.
Originally, I had no intention of speaking at this event. Last year, when this event came around, I was still coming to terms with what had happened to me and I completely refused to take part in the event. I went so far as to lock myself in my dorm room until I knew the march was over. But this year, determined to face my past, I went to the Teach In. It was there that I learned that students were allowed to speak and share their story. Before I knew it, I was asking the director of the event what I needed to do to participate. So that night I wrote my speech and sent it to her, and then I met with her multiple times before the event. I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.
The morning of the event I met with the director once more, addressed my concerns, and then I waited. The student speakers were asked to arrive at the venue before 6 pm to get situated with the area before the event started. A half hour before I needed to leave my dorm I had ultimately decided that there was no way I was going to speak. I remember the thought “what if instead of going to Take Back the Night I slept until tomorrow.” I went back and forth for that whole half hour until my friend finally pushed me to go. So I went.
When I arrived at the hall there were about ten people already there, mostly setting up the event. One of the other survivors who I knew was arriving the same time I did, and we both discussed our concerns. “What if what I say isn’t right? What if it’s too detailed? What if no one believes me?”
Shortly before the event started, I saw one of my on-campus attackers walk in. I froze, and suddenly I was taken back to that night and it didn’t feel like tonight was mine anymore. But ultimately, I knew that sharing my story was something that I needed to do.
Survivor after survivor took the podium and spoke, sharing their most vulnerable moments with people they didn’t even know. And with each story, I felt a little more empowered, a little more able to stand with them. Up until this moment I wasn’t so sure that I would be as strong as they were. I stood up and walked over to the microphone.
I hate being vulnerable. I hate talking about my feelings, I hate looking weak, and I love using sarcasm to cover up my fear. And then the time came, I actually had to start speaking. I had to tell this room full of 400+ people my story, my pain. I had to be vulnerable so that maybe, just maybe, I could give someone else the courage to do the same.
“I was never attacked by a man in a bush who would jump out at just the right moment, catching me by surprise. They never wore a ski-mask, black hoodie, or gloves to hide their appearance. They weren’t strangers, approximately 6-feet-tall, in their mid-to-late twenties or early thirties. I always knew who they were, and that was their perfect disguise.”
When I sat back in my seat it felt like a weight had been lifted. I had shared my story to a room full of people, some who had been exactly where I was and others who could only imagine what it felt like. Sharing my story was so incredibly freeing. I’m not new to the idea of talking about your issues to heal. I’ve spoken to many people about my struggles with an eating disorder, but that was always easier because it was the surface.
Talking about the sexual assaults I’ve endured meant being honest with myself. It meant acknowledging my emotions and actually telling others that I was in pain. I couldn’t be more proud of myself for doing it. The support I received from my friends was more than I could have asked for. Women sought me out after my speech, during the march, and after the vigil to thank me for having the courage to share my story because it gave them the courage to maybe share theirs.
What I wanted most out of this night was helping others know that they weren’t alone, but I was given so much more than that. At the candle light vigil I looked one of my on-campus attackers in the eyes and said, “there are men on this campus who have damaged me and I am still healing.” He spoke immediately after me. I had a panic attack when he took the mic and ran twenty yards away, requiring the other women I spoke with to follow me and calm me down, but I went back. And I stayed there for the rest of the night. I cried in public. I let myself feel hurt for what happened to me and what had happened to so many others.
For me, sharing my story in front of all of those people was one of the most healing moments for me to date. And while I certainly don’t encourage everyone to share their story to 400+ strangers, I do encourage survivors to share their story with someone. You’ve endured enough pain and you don’t deserve to carry this weight on your own. Allow yourself to be free.
All photos courtesy of Meg Moran.