ORONO, Maine — One by one, as the sun set and daylight slowly dimmed, women approached the microphone to speak. Some had harrowing tales of rape or abuse. Others simply wanted to offer support.
At night, it was hard to make out the faces of the women who came forward and confided things they had never before shared in public. But that was the point Tuesday of Take Back the Night, an event designed to allow women to come forward with some anonymity, share their stories, and then march through campus as a symbolic way of taking back control of their streets and their lives.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event on the UMaine campus. Take Back the Night co-chairwoman Emily Fortin said she thinks UMaine’s event, which is similar to those held on campuses and other sites all over the world, may be the only one in the Bangor area.
The Orono gathering drew about 200 people to the lawn area behind Fogler Library. Before the Survivor Speakout, as it is called, some representatives of the campus and community organizations that provide assistance to those dealing with the aftermath of sexual violence spoke about their services.
As dusk fell and it became hard to see faces, some women felt moved to talk about their experiences. One woman said she realized recently that a male friend drugged her drinks at a bar, causing her to black out. Another woman implored women to get out of abusive relationships like the one she had been in.
Other women said they initially believed the attacks against them were their own fault because of clothing they had worn, or because they had been flirtatious with their attacker.
Most of the women knew their attackers, which Fortin said earlier in the evening goes against some of the sexual assault stereotypes.
“All we think about really is the nighttime stalker, which is one of the least common [forms of attack],” said Fortin, a senior from Winthrop and member of the Student Women’s Association, which sponsored the event with the Safe Campus Project. “What I think we need to talk about is the date rape, spousal abuse and domestic violence. This event encompasses it all.”
At about 7 p.m., the group lit candles and marched through campus while chanting anti-violence slogans.
The majority of sex offense reports on the UMaine campus are acquaintance-related, which is in line with other campuses across the country, Dean of Students Robert Dana said in an interview before the march.
According to UMaine Department of Public Safety campus crime statistics, the university had seven reports of forcible sex offenses in 2008, down from eight reports in 2007, and 11 in 2006.
Dana said events such as Take Back the Night help promote awareness on campus, which he thinks has helped the numbers drop.
“There’s a concerted effort on campus to say, “No, we can’t tolerate it,’” Dana said. “There’s a lot of prevention, there’s a lot of talk, there’s a lot of programming and there’s a lot of people who are coming together.”
A regrouping session will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Women’s Resource Center, Fernald Hall 102, for anyone who wants to speak about their experiences in a more private setting.