Boston University police have logged nine reports of sexual assault and five reports of rape so far this academic year, double the number the department received in the previous two years combined.
While the women in those cases reported the alleged crimes, most survivors of sexual assault tell only their closest friends and family members—or don’t talk about it at all.
Breaking that silence is the main goal of Take Back the Night, a nationwide organization described as a “sex-positive, antiviolence, and sexual assault awareness campaign” by BU organizer the Feminist Collective (FemCo), a student group within the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. BU’s rally begins at 7 p.m. tonight at the BU Beach and includes educational discussions, skits, a speak-out for sexual assault survivors, and a march along Commonwealth Avenue.
The event comes on the heels of the recent arrests of two BU men’s ice hockey players on sexual assault charges and of a reported sexual assault along the Esplanade last Friday.
“This year really felt like we needed to have a large-scale, University-supported event that was a lot more educational, as opposed to cathartic,” says center activism coordinator Sasha Goodfriend (CAS’14).
FemCo recruited Megan Andelloux, a certified sexuality educator, to discuss rape and sexual assault on college campuses through what Goodfriend calls a “sex-positive lens.” Andelloux will also address victim blaming and what it means to be a survivor.
The event is not meant to broadcast the message that sex is bad, but to stress that choice is essential. “We think that sex is fabulous when it is consensual,” Goodfriend says. “A lot of people don’t know what consent is.” FemCo students will perform two skits about consent, which boils down to knowing how to ask for what you want and listening for what your partner wants.
Organizers will also talk about what it means to be a community of students. “When we’re in a situation where we see a friend about to do something that’s wrong or nonconsensual, we can step in and say something,” Goodfriend says.
President Robert A. Brown, who this month appointed a special Task Force on Men’s Ice Hockey in response to the two incidents involving players, supports the Friday night rally and wants to see a united BU community as well. “Our goal is to ensure that all our students can be safe and feel safe on our campus—and that our students understand their obligations to each other,” he says. “I’m particularly interested in helping students understand what they can do as engaged bystanders to help ensure the safety and well-being of others.”
A speak-out follows the night’s educational presentations, allowing sexual assault survivors time and a safe space to share their stories. Organizers recognize that this, and other aspects of the night’s events, are emotionally charged and have scheduled BU crisis counselors to be on hand.
The event is capped by a march, escorted by BU police, that will head east from the BU Beach to Myles Standish Hall, then double back along Comm Ave to West Campus, and return to the BU Beach for a celebration of spoken word, song, and dance.
Goodfriend anticipates a crowd of more than 200, including members of the Greek life community. The Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity is requiring all its members to attend, and the Panhellenic Council is sending five members from each sorority to the event.
Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, says strong attendance at Take Back the Night is key. But, she adds, “it’s important to keep the perspective that the event isn’t the end game. The end game is structure, a structural and administrative support for a different culture on campus. And one focused on prevention and access to services.”
Event organizers agree. “One of the goals of Take Back the Night is for students to feel empowered to report instances of sex assault on campus,” Goodfriend says, “because reports do add leverage to appeals for greater support for survivors on campus and for prevention methods.”
Take Back the Night is at 7 p.m. tonight at the BU Beach. The event will be capped by a march along Comm Ave, and a celebration back at the BU Beach. For more information, visit the Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism website or send members an email.