Break the Silence

“Rape is about power, not regretted sex” – Wagatwe Wanjuki

Take Back the Night provided an impactful and educational take on sexual violence and prevention within our culture. In a room full of survivors and allies, a feeling of togetherness swept the air. On Tuesday, April 7th, 2015, Take Back the Night brought together individuals from all realms of JMU, ranging from professors and staff to undergraduate students and graduate students.

The event consisted of three separate activities. First, from 6pm-7pm there were various performances from current students and a capella groups. Next, from 7pm-8pm, the keynote speaker Wagatwe Wanjuki (who coined the hash tag #SurvivorPrivilege and has since become a well known feminist activist) spoke about sexual violence and prevention efforts on college campuses. Last, but certainly not least, from 8-9pm there was an anonymous survivor speak out followed by a candlelit march throughout campus.

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Wagatwe Wanjuki explained how rape and sexual violence result from a power imbalance/hierarchy within our patriarchal culture. She debunked the common misconception that rape consists of a stranger jumping out of the bushes and attacking the victim – most rapes are committed by an acquaintance. Wanjuki covered important points, such as the role of intersecting identities including race, class, and disability within rape culture.

Wanjuki discussed rape as a systemic action that occurs as a result of structural issues within our culture. Since we live in a rape culture, women are unfortunately never safe from the fear of rape. Women confront gender-based violence on a daily basis, and one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. From walking with our keys between our fingers in parking lots, to clutching onto our cell phones on a crowded train, women are constantly confronted with the reality that rape exists, and our culture allows it to.

Rape and sexual assault reflect power and hierarchy in our culture. More women face gender-based violence in our culture than men, and people of marginalized communities (regarding race, class and disability) face instances of gender-based violence more often than those in privileged social groups.

Due to the existence of sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, and other forms on inequality in our culture, gender-based violence continues to exist. The mere existence of oppressed classes implies that oppressor classes hold power over those at a disadvantage, and therefore provides the foundation for violence, assault, and abuse.

When stating steps to combat rape culture, Wanjuki exclaimed, “don’t rape.” It seems simple enough; yet, there are still ideologies in our culture stating that rape is inevitable, and women must protect themselves. These mentalities are what lead to victim blaming.

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Prevention efforts must focus on the role of men, rather than encouraging women to adapt safe practices. Women, just like men, should be able to enjoy a night out without fear of gender-based violence. Many men feel as though their job is done regarding rape prevention by not engaging in rape. However, it is up to men to have conversations and discuss the seriousness of sexual assault and rape with other men. Wanjuki explained,

“Most men are not rapists, but most rapists are men.”

Therefore, it is vital that men and boys join the efforts to prevent and end gender-based violence and sexual assault.

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Another tactic that Wanjuki mentioned to combat rape culture is to believe survivors. Many times, we have a notion that women like to “cry rape” to get attention or to inflict negative consequences onto a man. However, it is vital that we take these stories seriously in order to get to the bottom of this issue.

Wanjuki asserted that along with believing survivors, in order to put an end to rape culture, we must get rid of the stigma and silence attached to victims. She claimed that,

“There should be a stigma against the rapist, not the survivor.”

By giving survivors respect and a voice, we can encourage others to speak out, create awareness, foster togetherness, provide a platform for activism, and ultimately create change. And that is exactly the purpose of Take Back the Night.

Wanjuki’s keynote address, as well as Take Back the Night as a whole, is an incredible step in the right direction for activism. Activism regarding feminism, gender-based violence, sexual assault, and experiences of sexual minorities, racial/ethnic minorities, and any and all other marginalized or oppressed groups.

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