Take Back the Night – an international event that aims to end sexual, relationship and domestic violence in all forms – has had many incarnations since its inception more than 35 years ago, from rallies, marches and performances, to runs, walks and biking events. Now, with the looming presence of COVID-19, the event is going virtual for the first time ever. Take Back the Night for 2020 is Take Back the Net.
Held as an annual speak-out and candlelight vigil at Mary Washington for over two decades, the event brings together the University and Fredericksburg communities to share personal stories of resilience and recovery, stand up against sexual assault and gender-based violence, and let survivors know they are not alone.
Unable to assemble in person, UMW Eagles will join electronically with colleges and universities across the Commonwealth for Take Back the Net tomorrow, April 7, at 7 p.m. Spearheaded by the Virginia Campus Task Force, this Zoom gathering will feature survivors, advocates and allies, including several Mary Washington students and alumni. The event comes as higher education institutions nationwide observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) in April.
“The collaborative nature of this year’s event is inspiring,” said Talley Center counselor Eve Kagan, who helped coordinate the statewide Take Back the Net. “In these uncertain times, we all need to find ways to connect and unite.”
Creating a multi-university event was the brainchild of Eric Garrison, of William & Mary’s Office of Health Promotion, Kagan said. Other participating institutions include Virginia Tech, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth, Old Dominion, Virginia State and Radford universities.
Kagan served on the task force and helped to establish the event’s tone and structure. Talley Center colleagues Melissa Palguta and Debbie Dunivan worked on the team as well, as did Jamie Opanashuk, Mary Washington’s confidential victims advocate, and Marissa Miller of UMW’s Center for Prevention and Education. Kagan and Palguta also identified and screened speakers, and Miller worked with a UMW student and colleagues at Virginia Tech to design a resource guide for Title IX and counseling centers at Virginia schools.
Safeguards are in place to prevent Zoom-bombing, harassment and intimidation, Miller said. Audience members will not be able to engage with the speakers, and moderators will be on hand to prevent disruptions. UMW clinicians will also be available to assist students who experience intense reactions to the presentations and need to reach out. “We want to create a space in which our community feels comfortable with speaking out,” Miller said.
Take Back the Night will return after the pandemic ends, Talley Center Director Tevya Zukor said, but he anticipates these institutions will partner for future events. He sees such collaboration as a positive outcome of the coronavirus situation. The Talley Center remains open for teletherapy and will offer counseling and consultation to students during the pandemic, he said.
“I could not be prouder of the work that our team has done to make Take Back the Net something special,” Zukor said. “But they’ve also continued to function as clinicians and take care of our students during this unprecedented time of anxiety and uncertainty.”
Other Sexual Assault Awareness Month virtual events and activities at Mary Washington include a Zoom discussion on April 13 with Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault, SAAM coloring pages and an Instagram contest with a UMW diploma frame as the grand prize. For more information, please visit https://diversity.umw.edu/itsonus/saam2020/. A list of campus, local (Fredericksburg) and national resources can be found on the You are Not Alone page.