At the annual Take Back the Night event for survivors of sexual assault and harassment at the University of New Hampshire (UNH), students, faculty and staff showed off their support by hanging posters, putting purple glowsticks in their windows and posting pictures with the caption #UNHPurpleThursday over social media for the virtual event on Thursday, Oct. 22. The event was put on by the Sexual Harassment and Rape Prevention Program (SHARPP) at UNH.  

Despite its virtual nature, the turnout for the event was outstanding according to SHARPP Outreach and Training Coordinator Erica Vazza. She explained that SHARPP had posters for people to pick up in support of Take Back the Night and was surprised at how many people picked up posters, with some also picking up extra posters for their friends. SHARPP also handed out purple glow sticks to people which many put in their windows as a sign of their support for the event. 

Vazza also credited Alpha Phi Omega for showing a great deal of support for the event and said that residential life was also key for the success of the event. She said that it’s been a “wild year” in relation to how they now engage with people in online settings with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic but said the events have still been successful at reaching people. All day, the UNH community and members of residential life, such as RAs and hall directors picked up posters for the event and decorated sidewalks with chalk in support.  

SHARPP has also been sharing anonymous words from survivors as part of their #UNHSurvivorsSpeak movement in the month of October, which is Relationship Abuse Awareness Month. They have been writing letters and advocating for policy this month for incarcerated survivors. This Friday, SHARPP has their last October event, ACTIVATE: SHARPP’s Action-Centered Book Club, on Oct. 30.  

The virtual Take Back the Night event started off with an acoustic interlude by classical guitar major at Walnut Hill School for the Arts Ewan Armstrong. Then, President of Campus Outreach Services and Director of the Take Back the Night Foundation Katie Koestner welcomed everyone attending the global virtual event and explained that this movement is in over 30 countries and has been around since the 1970s. She explained the importance of people “shattering the silence on sexual violence” through marches and events held by Take Back the Night. When Koestner was 18 years old, she stood up as a victim of date rape and explained the fear she had in speaking out and saying that no one had the right to her body without her permission or consent “no matter how much they spent on a date, no matter what I was wearing and no matter where I was at the time.” 

The owner of Mudita – Be Joy Yoga – Carrie Coppola then discussed the power of Take Back the Night and said to everyone that “you too are that pioneer just by showing up, by bringing yourself here.” Susan Marine, Associate Professor and Program Director in the Higher Education Master’s Program at Merrimack College then explained that they needed to reflect on what Take Back the Night is and where it came from. Marine said that the foundation of the movement was in raising awareness and consciousness of sexual harassment and violence. “Individual experiences of sexual victimization provide a lens through which a larger social and political analysis is possible and necessary,” said Marine. 

Amanda Blaugher, the Title IX Director at Gettysburg College, who has been working with the Take Back The Night Foundations for six years explained how hard it can be to break the silence as a survivor. She said there are so many barriers to reporting, and said, “People often think ‘will I be believed, what does the process look like, what resources are available to me’ and it’s not a really great landscape you know when we look at the statistics. So when we look at RAINN statistics around sexual assaults, out of every 1,000 sexual assaults 230 are reported to the police, 46 lead to an actual arrest, nine cases are referred to prosecutors, five lead to a felony conviction. And the statistic that they currently have is 4.6 rapists will be incarcerated for any point in time.” 

Men’s role in the Take Back the Night movement was also discussed by Gordon Braxton, an author, activist and public speaker who has trained over 250,000 people at 300+ K-12 schools, military bases and institutions of higher education around sexual misconduct issues and bystander engagement. Braxton said, “men have plenty to gain by being at the table, we have just as much to gain as anybody.” He pointed out that “all of us know survivors whether we know it or not. I was once talking to a man at the bus stop and every single woman that he ever dated in his life was a survivor.” He continued, “Many of us are survivors ourselves, and the flip side of that is many of us know perpetrators.” He then discussed the importance of the movement for men to learn how to approach other men and confront them about their problematic behaviors and engage them in conversations about sexual assault and harassment.  

The event also included survivors sharing their personal stories of sexual assault and sexual harassment along with some poetry about the subject as well. 

Students and staff collaborators that helped in the planning of SHARPP’s Day of Action & October’s Relationship Abuse Awareness Month include: Ally Poulin, Carolyn Stoller, Delaney Ripley, recent UNH graduate and alumnus & SHARPP staff member Jordyn Haime and SHARPP Prevention Specialist Kate Gladstone.  

To see more pictures and updates from SHARPP their website is https://www.unh.edu/sharpp/ and their Instagram is @unhsharpp