MOUNT VERNON — The voices of marchers could be heard resounding from the streets of downtown Mount Vernon: “Many voices breaking silence, demand an end to sexual violence!” The chant went on with each verse. “...We have the power, we have the right! The streets are ours! Take back the night!”
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and in recognition, New Directions Domestic Abuse Shelter of Knox County and The Delta Project held a “Take Back the Night” vigil Wednesday on Public Square.
The square was the focal point as spectators gathered to see the Clothesline Project of shirts and pillowcases, testaments to women or children affected by sexual assault. White is for women who have died from violence; yellow or beige for women who have been battered or assaulted; red, pink or orange for women who have been raped, sexually assaulted or harassed; blue or green for female survivors of incest or child sexual assault; purple or lavender for women attacked because of their sexual orientation.
A blue shirt read, “Sexual assault took away my childhood.” A white shirt read, “live and let live.” A yellow shirt read, “life is precious so are our women and children: Stop the violence.” Others were represented as well.
Many people from the community were present to show support of and to participate in the vigil.
“This is moving for me because I know a personal family member who was a victim of it, and I came out here to show my support,” said Tim Benner, a Kenyon College student and member of the football team. “As a team, we feel like this is our way to give back to the community and show that we care. We care for more than just the campus; we care about the surrounding community and we want to be involved.”
Benner, as well as other members of the football team, participated in a march downtown, leading the way with a banner.
“This event on sexual assault brings awareness home to everyone, and shows how much it affects everyone’s lives,” said Ted Stanley, head coach for the Kenyon College football team. “Everyone has a mother, sister or a loved one that has been effected by sexual assault, and these issues affect every woman and man. We are glad to be here to show our support.”
Ty McGuire, defensive coordinator for the team, spearheaded the team’s involvement in the program. Team members were informed about the event and encouraged to come, but not required to participate. Wednesday was the team’s day off from football practice; many came to support the vigil.
“This is very important and we came to show our support and to show that we care,” said McGuire.
During the program, Mayor Richard Mavis presented a proclamation in recognition of April being Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Two songs, “I’ll Be,” by the Goo Goo Dolls, and “Summer of ’69,” by Bryan Adams, were sung during a special performance by Melissa Downs on vocals and guitar.
Andrea Kidde, a student at Kenyon, read the “Survivor’s Bill of Rights” and LeAnn Eshelman, New Directions Board vice president, read “If we were safe at night.”
Keynote speaker for the program was Sandy Huntzinger, victim service coordinator for the Ohio Attorney General’s sexual assault forensic exam program.
“Decades after women began to speak out against sexual violence, nothing has changed,” she said. “There is still a great need to bring awareness about this issue to the forefront of people’s minds. Too often rape is misconstrued to be nothing more than a misunderstanding instead of the violence it is.
“We talk about the problems in our world, yet we rarely take a good look at what we’re committed to as a community. By stopping sexual and intimate partner violence, we can also stop many other types of crimes. We would see a reduction in the prison population because we would see fewer people using drugs due to long-term trauma. We would see a reduced prison population because a majority of prisoners have witnessed sexual assault or violence in their lives, or have had that experience personally. Men won’t fear being alone with their children or children that they care about. We wouldn’t blame women on their rape solely based on the way that they looked or the way that they were acting that night.
“I want to start to see things change. ... I say, ‘turn it up.’ Challenge yourself to understand what it means to talk about sexual violence and use the words that people fear,” said Huntzinger.
The vigil ended with a candle-lighting ceremony. As the wind blew, participants fought to keep their candles lit. Bringing awareness can sometimes be like lighting a candle in the daytime, said Jamie Smith, Delta coordinator for New Directions.
“We may often think it’s a futile attempt, but it’s not,” she said.