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April 7, 2014

'Take Back The Night' to raise awareness

By Jessica Reynolds Staff writer
The Daily Star

---- — More than 100 people will gather and march Thursday to raise awareness of the 239 cases of domestic violence, sexual assault and violent crime that occurred in Otsego County last year, an organizer said. 

Will Rivera, program director of Opportunities for Otsego’s Violence Intervention Program said each year, the program teams with SUNY Oneonta, Hartwick College and Family Planning of South Central New York to sponsor a Take Back The Night event, to raise awareness and show support for victims of assault and violence. 

Take Back The Night is a foundation that seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence and sexual abuse, according to its website. The first event was held in Philadelphia in October of 1975 after a young microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, was brutally murdered, the website said. Speeth was stabbed to death by a stranger a block away from her home while walking by herself one night.

Since then, thousands of Take Back The Night events have occurred across the country to break the silence about these issues, Rivera said. At Oneonta’s annual Take Back The Night, supporters and victims march through the city, chanting and empowering each other in a celebratory manner, rather than a solemn one, Rivera said.

This year’s march will be this Thursday from 6:30 p.m. to roughly 8:30 p.m. and will begin in front of SUNY Oneonta’s Milne Library, where there will be several speeches, Rivera said. The group of marchers will then proceed downtown, stopping at various destinations along the way and hearing from student poets, and will conclude in the Kim Muller Plaza on Main Street, where SUNY Oneonta’s a capella group Hooked On Tonics will perform and a candlelight vigil will be held for all victims of violent crimes.

According to Oneonta Police Chief Dennis Nayor, this kind of incident is not often reported to police. In 2013, only two women reported assault by an unknown assailant, Nayor said. Statistically, most attacks are carried out by someone the victim knows, but that doesn’t mean attacks by strangers never happen, he said.

Rivera said more than 1,117 calls were made on the Violence Intervention Program’s 24-hour hotline in 2013. The same year, 2,100 counseling sessions were provided for victims, 70 individuals were placed in safe housing and 2,410 referrals were made to community support services. Just because it doesn’t often get reported to police, Rivera said, certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t a problem in the area.

In fact, most of the time, Rivera said, victims of sexual assault or violent crimes make the choice not to call police. This is for a variety of reasons, he said.

“We visit victims in the hospital and they don’t want the police involved,” Rivera said, “because they don’t want to be blamed, or they’re scared, or because we live in such a small community and they’re afraid of the consequences.”

Rivera agreed that most assaults are done by a friend, family member or co-worker of the victim, but attacks by strangers happen too, he said.

“We do know that it happens,” Rivera said, “because anything could happen. And we have to be prepared for that.”

According to the United States Department of Justice, Rivera said, someone in the U.S. is sexually assaulted every two minutes. One out of every six American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, he said, and among all the victims, about nine out of ten are female.

Chief Nayor, first and foremost, stressed the importance of not walking alone at night. Having some foresight and situational preparedness will help lower the risk of possible assault, he said. For instance, if you have to walk by yourself, only travel on well-lit, well-traveled roadways and keep your focus. Although pretending to talk into a cell phone may deter attackers because they will know you are in immediate connection with someone, it could also suggest that you are distracted. Never text and walk, Nayor said, as you will have no idea what’s going on around you.

Nayor said it’s important for young people to watch out for each other in these circumstances. Have a buddy with you, he said, and let someone know when you are leaving and when you expect to arrive. That way, if you don’t show up, they’ll know something is wrong. Nayor said he believes the current generation of young people are smart and have grown up hearing about “stranger danger.” Now, he said, they are putting that knowledge into practice and making good decisions that could very well save their lives.

But what if you’ve done everything right, made all the “right” decisions and something still happens. How can women defend themselves from a would-be attacker?

Many people suggest carrying pepper spray, Nayor said, but he is personally not a big advocate of this because it can be used against the victim.

“If you’re going to use it, you should know how to use it correctly and it has to be justified. If it makes you feel better, that’s great,” Nayor said, “but there’s a responsibility that comes with it.”

Rivera said the Violence Intervention Program teaches individuals to travel as a group and also teaches bystander training so other people can know how to intervene if they see an assault in progress.

According to Rivera, survivors of sexual assault are three times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol, 26 times more likely to abuse drugs and four times more likely to contemplate suicide. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and dissociation are also common effects.

More than anything, Rivera said, we mustn’t place blame on anyone who has been a victim of assault.

“You shouldn’t have been walking alone” is not an acceptable statement of response to a victim, he said. 

According to Rivera, showing perpetrators that we, as a community, will not accept abuse while showing victims that we support them by participating in an event, such as Take Back The Night, is a much more compassionate and useful response.

Said Rivera: “We’re there to empower them.”