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The Battalion

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The Battalion

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Take Back the Night empowers sexual assault survivors through community

Keynote+speaker+Marcy+Bartula%2C+founder+of+the+Different+Day+Foundation%2C+leads+the+candlelight+moment+of+empowerment+at+the+Take+Back+the+Night+event+in+Aggie+Park+on+Wednesday%2C+March+3%2C+2024.+%28Kyle+Heise%2FThe+Battalion%29
Photo by Kyle Heise
Keynote speaker Marcy Bartula, founder of the Different Day Foundation, leads the candlelight moment of empowerment at the Take Back the Night event in Aggie Park on Wednesday, March 3, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion)

Sexual assault survivors and advocates held “Take Back the Night” at Aggie Park on Wednesday, April 3 in observance of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. The event featured a keynote speaker on human trafficking, a candlelight moment of empowerment, an Awareness Walk through Aggie Park and speeches from a survivor of sexual assault, an advocate and ally.

The event was sponsored by numerous on and off-campus organizations to provide a supportive environment, including A&M Health Promotion and Feminism4Aggies, and co-sponsored by Sophomore Leaders Impacting, Developing and Educating, or SLIDE.

Denise Crisafi, Ph.D., coordinates interpersonal violence prevention within A&M’s Division of Student Affairs. Crisafi said the event is a long-standing nationwide event that expands beyond A&M’s campus. In 2001, the movement began gaining traction within the U.S.

“With this event, our ultimate goal is to provide a space on our campus where students can learn about our community resources, our departments that respond to sexual violence and support individuals who have experienced sexual violence,” Crisafi said. 

Crisafi said students are often unaware of what falls under the umbrella of sexual violence and this event will help to combat the misunderstanding.

“When we talk about ending sexual violence, we’re talking about ending a lot of different types of crimes and social justice problems,” Crisafi said. “That can be sexual assault, human trafficking, stalking, dating and domestic violence or harassment.”

The Take Back the Night event in Aggie Park on Wednesday, March 3, 2024. (Kyle Heise/The Battalion) (Photo by Kyle Heise)

Regional planning junior Ximena Lino is a Sexual Assault Awareness Month director for SLIDE. Lino said the misconception of what sexual violence is can become harmful when students can’t identify it.

“There are so many things that people can just kind of pass over, although it may fall under sexual violence,” Lino said. “That’s how I was through my own experience with sexual violence, and I didn’t really understand the severity of what I had gone through until I learned from others’ experiences.”

Crisafi said this event is targeted towards students as they are the ones being heavily affected by the multitude of different sexual violence. She said sexual violence prevention is crucial to students’ safety.

“We want to make sure that our students are aware that if they’re impacted, or they know someone who is, that there’s a very close-knit group of resources that they can reach out to,” Crisafi said. “Really, what we’re trying to do is make the topic more approachable that way students can understand that there’s support all around them.”

Economics sophomore Dexaly Villarreal is the vice president and treasurer of Feminism4Aggies, an event sponsor. Villarreal said being involved in the event helped her realize she’s not alone in her journey after surviving sexual assault.

“When I came to the event last year, I realized that I was a survivor,”  Villarreal said. “Last year, when I saw there were people who felt and experienced the same things I went through, and they still have the strength to do this, it made me think that I also have the power to be here.”

Crisafi said that seeking help doesn’t always have to mean reporting, but instead, giving a platform to victims

“I think a lot of times when we hear getting support, we think of calling the police or going to the Title IX office,” Crisafi said. “However, we want to make students aware that there are other resources that can be there when they are seeking help. We also want to give a space to see and hear individuals’ journeys and how they persevered. We basically want to give our students a voice.”

Villarreal said this event is important because it helped her realize how she can get support through her experience. Before she connected with other survivors and allies, Villarreal said she felt alone.

“I felt like I had no one around me who could help, and through the event, I learned about resources like Title IX and what actions I can take to seek my own justice,” Villarreal said. “Just learning these things you can do after thinking you’re so helpless is amazing.”

Crisafi said hosting the event during this Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month was intentional.

“I don’t know how else to describe it besides as our own capstone for our academic year,” Crisafi said. “We’ve talked about domestic violence prevention in October, we’ve discussed human trafficking, stalking and dating abuse prevention in January and February, and now we’re kind of bringing it all together to educate on sexual violence prevention.”

Keynote speaker Marcy Bartula is the founding director of the Different Day Foundation. Bartula said when thinking of April for raising awareness for sexual assault, something that many overlook is human trafficking, and through her foundation, she hopes to support survivors.

“Different Day is a sanctuary for survivors of human trafficking,” Bartula said. “We provide employment, therapy, residency and lots of love. Our mission is to provide survivors with a space to have life skills, gainful employment, and expressive arts to help with trauma. The women we serve come from hard places, broken communities and broken homes, where we as a society have rolled out the red carpet, to be a breeding ground for human trafficking.”

Bartula said as a survivor herself, she has firsthand seen the impacts of human trafficking. 

“I, too, am a child from hard places,” Bartula said. “I’m from an area where gang violence was super prevalent and where living in fight or flight was a real everyday occurrence. I’m a survivor myself of sexual assault, child abuse and domestic violence. But with that, I overcame those experiences — brought me to where I am today.” 

A&M is located within the “Texas Triangle” of Houston, San Antonio and Dallas. Bartula said residents in the triangle, particularly college students, are at risk. 

“This age group, from 18 to 22, is the most vulnerable, and traffickers prey on that population, especially in a college town,” Bartula said. “I think it’s really important to let students know that this is not an uncommon occurrence only seen in media, but it is happening amongst your peers.”

After Bartula’s speech, she led the candlelight movement of empowerment. With this, she said this is how we can give hope to those still in the battle.

“When you light that candle, you’re lighting that candle for another woman who is still in the life. You’re lighting that candle for the woman still trying to find her way home.”

One of the last events of the night is the Awareness Walk. With the event being a long-standing movement, Crisafi said A&M wants to honor the movement’s history with the Awareness Walk through Aggie Park.

“In the past, the event was a large protest, so I think we have to pay respect to the fact that this was a Violence Against Women movement that has since evolved into an everybody’s movement,” Crisafi said. “The walk pays respect to history, but it also gives us a chance to promote our education and resources on campus, and the walk allows folks to walk that is a survivor or know someone who is a survivor.”

Carrie Martinez is the outreach coordinator of the Sexual Assault Resouce Center. Martinez said during next year’s event, she hopes to see a continuation of these traditions, but also growth.

“Hopefully, we can get an increase in interest surrounding these sorts of events and also the community organizations,” Martinez said. “Whether that be someone wants Twin City Missions to come speak with them, or SARC to get education from them, just to make sure all the community organizations and A&M organizations that are there to help people can expand and just help as many individuals as possible.”

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About the Contributor
Stacy Cox
Stacy Cox, News Writer
Stacy Cox is a freshman majoring in Sociology, minoring in Women & Gender Studies and earning a certificate in Legal History. Stacy is from New Braunfels, Texas, and she started writing for The Battalion in November 2023. After graduation, Stacy intends to earn a law degree and pursue a career in law and public service.
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