Survivors, allies and event organizers gather in Quarry Plaza before the start of the march. Photos by Lluvia Moreno

Trigger warning: this article contains reference to sexual assault and violence on the UC Santa Cruz campus. 

“Take back my life, take back the night!” shouted teary-eyed participants.

Carrying posters conveying the importance of consent and reclamation, the marchers’ empowered words echoed throughout UC Santa Cruz as they traveled from Quarry Plaza to Oakes College. 

On April 23, members from the Women’s Center and UCSC’s Campus Advocacy Resources and Education (CARE), survivors and allies joined in the annual Women’s Center Take Back the Night march as part of the weeklong Sexual Assault Awareness event series. This annual tradition has been a center staple since the 1980s. This year, the center partnered with CARE. 

Events focused on emotional healing, community building and reclamation. This year’s Take Back the Night marked new Women’s Center director Colleen Rice’s first major project.

“[The Take Back the Night] event represents the longtime movement of women’s liberation,” Rice said. “Giving a platform to [survivors] of sexual assault and their allies to be loud and proud is something that is often times terrifying, however, this is an affirming space that promotes community and  empowerment.”

Take Back the Night is a global event that motivates survivors of sexual assault, abuse and stalking to reclaim their lives. Feminist studies professor Bettina Aptheker introduced the event to UCSC through the Women’s Center in 1983. The tradition creates a safe community for survivors and allies and fills gaps in what some see as the university’s shortcomings of support for survivors. 

As a part of the Wellness Series for Take Back the Night 2019, survivors and allies learned about the power of plants while planting sprigs of rosemary. 

“CARE does a lot for survivors of assault, abuse and stalking,” said Carrie Vasquez, Take Back the Night co-coordinator and CARE Prevention Education intern. “However, I think the university as a whole needs to step it up and give more support to this community.” 

According to UCSC’s police statistics, there were six cases of rape by force documented and nine cases of sexual assault reported in 2016. Take Back the Night raises awareness about this issue, which impacts college campuses worldwide.

“The event is meant for survivors to reclaim the nights in which they experienced any form of interpersonal violence,” Vasquez said. “It empowers a lot of survivors to come forward and share their experiences. The space created here is for survivors.” 

Professional staff and interns from both the Women’s Center and CARE began planning in winter quarter. April 17 marked the commencement of the Take Back the Night events. 

Following the march, 50 participants celebrated with a dinner at Oakes College, awaiting the commencement of the Survivor Speakout. Keynote speaker Tani Ikeda facilitated this opportunity for survivors to share their experiences. Ikeda is the founder and CEO of #SurvivorLoveLetter, a viral movement that encourages survivors to write either their own experiences or words of advice for others on a heart-shaped letter.

Keynote Speaker Tani Ikeda leads attendees in a breathing exercise before her talk.

This year, Take Back the Night brought back an alternative activity, the Healing and Art Space, for participants who did not feel comfortable sharing their experiences. The Healing and Art Space event invited participants to craft zines, buttons and aromatherapy bags.

“I am a survivor,” attendee Lauren Hatcher said. “This event has given me a positive outlook. […] Something as simple as walking through the streets yelling ‘no means no’ and ‘yes means yes’ can be very empowering. A lot of the time, you’re faced with self-doubt or the general side effects of living in a rape culture, where those affirmations are not very present.” 

The weeklong event series gave participants the opportunity to create a supportive space that encouraged them to work on reclaiming their lives. Many participants expressed gratitude for the space created due to the perceived lack of support for  survivors.

“The power of this event is in the name, ‘Take Back the Night,’” Rice said. “It is a moment to take to the streets and say ‘no, we won’t live in silence. We are here. We’ve always been here. We will continue to be here. We will be heard.’”