Over the last century, women have fought for equality. Here in the U.S. they have the right to vote, they can manage companies, and they have the freedom to live the life they choose. They no longer have to be homemakers unless they want to, or wear dresses down to their ankles, but many women still fear walking alone at night. “We are so lucky, but I think at the same time people like to point at that and say, ‘See? It's not a problem anymore,’” said Mary Cowen, an employee at the Women's Resource and Action Center (WRAC) on the University of Minnesota Duluth’s campus. “But when you dig into it, one in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime and one in four will experience domestic violence. That on its own shows we still have big problems.”
It's because of such high numbers that WRAC is constantly trying to raise awareness about the problems that still face women today. April is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. On Thursday, April 21, WRAC will be involved in Take Back the Night, a march that takes place all over the world to fight for the right of women to walk alone at night without fear.
“It's a really awesome way to be this visual force. Women shouldn't have to be afraid to walk alone at night,” said Molly DeBrock, an intern at WRAC.
Her fellow intern, Lexie Generous, agreed.
“It's really powerful and means a lot for the people that go,” said Generous.
Take Back the Night began in Philadelphia in October 1975 after the murder of a young microbiologist. Susan Alexander Speeth was stabbed by a stranger a block from her home. Since then events have been held all over the world, and Take Back the Night has become an annual event in the Twin Ports area. The event is co-sponsored by the Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault (PAVSA) and a number of other local companies and businesses. The march begins with music, dance and other performances, and is followed with talks from survivors of sexual abuse.
One of the main issues facing women, particularly in regard to sexual assault, is that of awareness.
“People have no idea,” Cowen said. “A lot of these issues are things people don't want to talk about.”
Despite the support offered, the WRAC staff said many women are still afraid to report sexual or domestic abuse.
“There's an awful lot of shame,” DeBrock said. “You are blamed. Victim blaming is the number one reason, because you're made to feel it's your fault. By the people that you talk to, by the person who did it to you. Everything in our culture makes it feel like something that happened to you was your fault and you don't deserve help getting through it.”
Cowen remembered a particularly poignant point made at a PAVSA talk she attended, which helped her to understand the reasons why many women feel unable to report their attacks.
“You have to keep telling the same story over and over again and imagine if you had to come into a room and tell a bunch of people the story of your last sexual encounter and then imagine if that sexual encounter was the scariest thing that ever happened to you. And just how uncomfortable that would be.” Cowen said.
WRAC is doing everything they can to encourage women to speak out about their sexual abuse. Last semester they gained permission to have posters on display in the bathrooms on campus, and every semester they have a talk on sexual abuse from PAVSA.
“Awareness and education is key,” said DeBrock. “That is a big part of what we try and do. Continuing to be visible.”
The staff at WRAC hopes to see a difference in the lives of women by continuing to encourage an awareness of women’s issues.
“Ideally, in my dreams, I would love to live in a world where most women I meet haven't experienced sexual violence,” DeBrock said.
If you would like to get involved with WRAC, you can contact them via email at WRAC@d.umn.edu or subscribe to their weekly newsletter of events and volunteer opportunities in the area.
Have you been involved in the work that WRAC does? Are you doing anything to promote women’s issues? Let us know in the comments.