Students and professors peacefully protested and marched at Winona State University on Thursday, April 23, at the annual “Take Back the Night” event to give victims of sexual assault a safe place to speak out and be supported.
The event started at 6 p.m. in the WSU Student Union with survivor and victim stories of sexual assault. Many participants told their stories. They were given a flower and received hugs from people in the audience afterward.
After the speakers, Women and Gender Studies (WAGS) professor Tamara Berg thanked them for telling their stories.
“I can see the victim and blame culture coming out in the survivor’s stories,” Berg said. “It’s not your fault and by telling your story, you’re starting to change the culture.”
Many of the victims said they were blamed for the assault and many said they felt it was their fault after it happened.
“It’s unbelievable that survivors tell their stories because they are painful to retell,” Berg continued. “It doesn’t matter how much you drank or what you wore, it’s not your fault.”
Winona County Attorney Kevin O’Laughlin attended the event and listened to the stories. He spoke to the victims and thanked them for having the strength to tell their stories.
“We’ve come a long way, we have a long way yet to go,” O’Laughlin said. “As a representative of the criminal justice system, thank you. Please share your stories with law enforcement. If you have the courage and strength to tell your story, you help me hold offenders accountable. Sexual assault is not the victim’s fault.”
The second part of the night was a march through campus, to Broadway, over to Main Street and then back to campus. Winona State students Bobbi Jo Wrona and Emily Homan led the march and chants. As the group passed by the Quad residence hall, students yelled at them. The group marched on.
The Winona Women’s Resource Center director, Diana Miller, said “Take Back the Night” was organized by the center more than 30 years ago. Miller said the attendance wasn’t very large and it got more attention when Winona State took it over. The average attendance is about 80 to 100 people. Last year’s attendance numbered 200 people, Miller said.
“It’s the most important event for the Women’s Resource Center. It’s an opportunity for everyone who is interested in advocating to get involved,” Miller said. “We honor survivors and have a spirited march at the end. It’s meaningful and emotional for everyone.”
Miller said she loves this event because it raises awareness and gets advocates motivated to get the hard work done.
“We just keep going and advocate on,” Miller said. “Advocating is hard work.”
Many students attended the event because they themselves were survivors of sexual assault.
Child Advocacy Studies minor Ashley Murphy said she attended because she was assaulted and is an advocate.
“It’s important to give people a voice and have a safe place to talk,” Murphy said.
Two students are making a poster with pictures for the event to get more people to come next year.
Social work junior Andrea White said FORGE (Fighting for Our Rights and Gender Equality) funds the event for the food, flowers and the clothesline project outside of Minne Hall.
“I loved the turn-out. I’ve been attending since freshman year, but this is the first year I spoke out,” White said. “You can see the victim blaming culture is really pervasive in our society, there were people yelling from the Quad.”
White said the goal is to get more people to come and create a community where we support each other.
“It’s a unique opportunity and there’s so much more to it when you sit in that space and listen to their story,” White said. “I think next week it will be on everyone’s mind at one point.”
Junior social work major Madeline Mowery said she attended this event her freshman year because it was required for a class. Later, she made WAGS her minor and is the FORGE secretary.
“This year’s event went really well, I think it was the best one so far because I was involved with the planning and appreciated it more,” Mowery said. “I really liked it and made it my minor.”
Community Health junior Leah Peterson said she loves the empowerment the event gives.
“I came because I spoke last year and I have a friend who has been a victim of domestic violence,” Peterson said. “I know a lot of victims and I came to support them.”