Take Back the Night, an event dedicated to spreading awareness about domestic and sexual abuse, took over Civic Space Park last Friday.
The event is hosted annually by La Frontera Arizona’s EMPACT-SPC, Arizona’s largest suicide prevention program. EMPACT Employee Tamira Burns said Take Back the Night is an event that happens around the world and is focused on breaking the silence and starting the healing process for abuse victims.
“We’re here saving lives, giving people a safe place, and bringing speakers to the stage so that that people can learn they don’t have to stay silent,” Burns said.
The event began with a band playing several hit songs, such as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstitious” and “Don’t Stop Believing.”
There were several booths with representatives providing brochures, speaking to patrons and spreading awareness of their organizations. The groups included New Life Center (a domestic violence shelter), HERO (a group working for LGBTQ equality), and Devils in the Bedroom (a sexual wellness organization at ASU with a large focus on stopping sexual assault).
“It’s so great to see high schoolers here, and people of all different age groups, coming out here to protest sexual violence,” said Anne Mattson, director of marketing at Devils in the Bedroom.
However, when several sexual assault victims started presenting, people were glued to the stage.
The first speaker was Vern Harner. They began by talking about a lack of notice of LGBTQ sexual assault survivors, especially those from smaller groups.
“I’m not even sure if I’ve ever heard another genderqueer person share their story in-depth about being sexually assaulted,” Harner said. “So I’m really hoping that I can help other non-binary people, other queer people, other transgender people, realize that they’re not alone as being a survivor.”
Harner said they were dating a man, to whom they referred as Dave, who was years older than they were. The first time their boyfriend raped them, he heavily pressured them into having sex, asking them “don’t you want to be a good girlfriend.” Harner said they also felt pressured by the several guns in Dave’s room, including one that was often under his pillow.
“I think that’s something that’s important about my story. I never had a gun pointed at me, I didn’t have any bones broken, anything like that,” Harner said. “But feeling a gun pressed against your face under a pillow still has an effect on you.”
Harner said the man raped them several times, although they don’t remember the exact number of times, or when they stopped dating. They later found out he was addicted to methamphetamine, and that he was dating others too.
Harner never reported the rapes to police, and didn’t tell family members about what had happened until years later. They received a scare several years later when they found out they had sexually contracted the HPV virus from the man who had raped them.
They had it treated before it developed into cancer, but they said it was an ugly reminder of what had occurred.
Despite all hardship, Harner still ended on a somewhat positive note.
“I’m still living, and that is the best revenge I could get on my rapist.” Harner said. “Rape is about power and control, so living life to your fullest is one of the bravest things you can do after experiencing that.”
Another story was that of Shiloh Ashley, who described being raped at age three and then again years later.
She described her thoughts moments before she was about to be raped by the friend
“I knew I was trapped, I knew he was going to rape me,” Ashley said. “I just had to see if I could make sure he wouldn’t hurt me more in the process. I told myself, that if he got what he wanted, he would let me go and it would be over.”
Ashley said she was powerless in the situation, and described her thoughts during her horrific experience.
“I imagined my family, and I thought of the boy I had a crush on, and I thought how I would never be the same”, Ashley said.
Ashley described a final horrifying story, where she was made to kiss a boy during a game of truth-or-dare. However, the boy sexually assaulted her, while those around cheered.
“I was trying to push off, and pull him out of my pants, but my hands were two sizes too small.” Ashley said. “Laughter echoing, applause, the whole room cheered on.”
These events were one in several sexual and violent incidents that happened to her over several years. Eventually, she looked to counseling to help her overcome what had happened, to positive results.
“I didn’t understand strength, until I started connecting value with my self-worth,” Ashley said. “I dedicated myself to healing. I could now focused on finding my own greatness, I was focused on my dreams. Through this process, I was able to connect with my preciousness, and reconnect with my innocence.”
Others who spoke included a victim at the hands of a serial rapist met online, a woman who was kidnapped and raped repeatedly as a teenager by a man who promised her that he would get her a place to live, and someone who had struggled through physical and emotional abuse by different pairs of step-parents.
The event ended with a candlelight vigil, and a final march through Downtown Phoenix and First Friday.
“2-4-6-8, no more violence no more hate. People unite, take back the night. Women, men, transgender, unite. We are here to take back the night,” protesters shouted as they marched.
Corrections: April 14, 2015:
A previous version of this story incorrectly named one of the speakers as “Shilo Ashley.” Her name is Shiloh Ashley.
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Ashley’s rapists as a friend and a family friend. She did not consider either to be friends at any time.
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org