The United Feminist Movement (UFM) at Virginia Tech hosted its annual Take Back the Night rally April 8, with a virtual twist.
The rally was hosted at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg with limited in-person seating and a live-stream option. The lineup included speakers from UFM, the Women’s Center, professors, pre-recorded videos of local politicians, singing and acting performances and a statement of support from President Tim Sands. Over 50 people attended virtually and in-person, collectively.
“I think this event is important because it’s still a pervasive issue. Sexual assault (or) gender-based violence doesn’t stop just because the pandemic happens. A lot of studies have shown that (sexual assault) actually increases because we’re all stuck at home,” said UFM President Linsi Goodin when asked why they chose to host the rally even though it had to be modified to meet COVID-19 guidelines.
Domestic violence rates have in fact increased since the pandemic began. Local police reports reveal that domestic violence has risen by 18% in San Antonio, 22% in Portland, Oregon, and 10% in New York City. However, these only take into account reported and investigated crimes. Financial strain and spending more time at home with abusers are contributing factors. Additionally, escaping domestic violence has its own challenges with travel restrictions, social distancing in shelters, thinly stretched law enforcement and a highly in-demand, lowly-funded nonprofit sector.
Take Back the Night (TBTN) is an international organization that advocates against gender-based violence through legal aid and events such as these rallies. TBTN has continued putting on virtual events and sponsoring chapter events such as the UFM rally during the pandemic. TBTN described that these events “help heal and raise awareness about sexual violence,” on its official Twitter account.
“It recognizes an issue that is often overlooked,” Goodin said.
Dr. Brandy Faulkner, assistant professor of political science and Black studies at Virginia Tech, and Dr. Bonnie Zare, associate professor of sociology at Virginia Tech, spoke about how marginalized groups are especially at-risk for sexual assault and gender-based violence.
“Black women are often referred to in literature as the forgotten victims of sexual violence,” Faulkner said “According to the National Center for Violence Against Women in the Black Community, one in four black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18. Take back the night, when was it ever ours? As a society, we haven’t done enough to teach each generation how to respect the human dignity and autonomy of every person.”
Faulkner and Zare related current and historical events that make these communities more vulnerable, including the recent shootings in Atlanta that targeted Asian women.
“We are here for the spa workers who died in Atlanta,” Zare said “Their deaths are making us reckon with white America’s shameless fetishization of Asian bodies and with the way all minoritized bodies in this country are both invisible and hyper visible –– two sides of a coin no one asked to be on.”
The overarching message of the event was to believe and support survivors of sexual violence.
“I’ve attended this event as a student, a professor, an activist and a mother,” Zare said “My children learned about showing up in support of peace as they learned what the word violence meant. When you have young people in your lives, now or one day, please bring them to these events.”
UFM continues to advocate for accountability for sexual violence at Virginia Tech through events such as a discussion with professors about ecofeminism, a town hall on racial equity and a clothesline project. UFM is also very active on social media and uses it as a platform to promote intersectional feminism values.