Posted by: Beverly Dale | April 13, 2010

Penn’s Take Back the Night 2010: Stories in the Night Create a Compassionate Community

This year’s annual “Take Back the Night rally” sponsored by the Penn Women’s center and a variety of women’s groups concluded, as usual with a candlelight speak out. Dozens of women, and several men, came to the microphone. Many said, “I hadn’t planned to say anything tonight but…” And then, came the painful stories, each one so raw and so real that listeners and the speakers were breathless and in tears together.

“My stepgrandfather molested me from the time I was 6 until 9 and it only stopped because he died in a car crash. When I cried at his funeral they thought it was because he was such a good grandfather to me.”

“I was told silence is the way the strongest survive.”

“He took my virginity at 15…”

“I was 13 and starting high school and then discovered I was pregnant (from a rape.)”

“I hid under a pile of dirty laundry in the basement and held my breath so he wouldn’t find me.”

“My mom still has the scar he gave her next to her eye. I see it every time I look at her.”

“Being here I realize that my ‘rape story’ is not a joke.”

“I didn’t know what to do so I didn’t do anything.”

“I was supposed to be so smart so how could I tell anyone I had been so dumb to get into this mess?”

“Not saying ‘no’ does not mean I said ‘yes.’”

“My sorority sisters blackballed me because they supported the fraternity he (the rapist) was in.”

“At 9 I was raped by my grandfather before I knew what sex meant.”

“I thought I was to blame.”

“I’m still afraid.”

“I’m 21 and I have no feelings. I am emotionally barren.”

“I didn’t want my parents to be sad. So I didn’t tell them.”

“He was the minister of finance and he did it to me every summer when my parents sent me there each year.”

“I was molested 10 years of my life by my cousin but didn’t want to break up my family. When I did tell, my family became outcasts because he was so popular.”

“I’m not a survivor yet, but I’m getting there.”

Following each testimony, each speaker was embraced by friends and given a red carnation for the courage it took to speak out and “take back the night.” I concluded the evening with the following words.

In all the stories that we heard tonight it is important to remember that you are not to blame.  It is not your fault.

But tonight shows us that physical and sexual abuse is all about the pain of betrayal. It is the betrayal of those we trusted but who failed us, those who were supposed to protect us and did not, those we loved and who betrayed us, and how we sometimes betrayed ourselves. And we ask, “What if? Why me? And, Why?”

But tonight is also about the power of community to create healing. It is the community who reminds us we are not alone. In community we learn that others have been there and they have survived and are surviving. At our deepest vulnerability there are always loving friends and even compassionate strangers.

As we have heard these stories rest assured now that each personal story is now our community’s story. We are bound together in community now by having heard the power in truth-telling. We have created a new community here, and now. We are not alone. There is power here. It is the power to heal.

And tonight is about the power of grounding ourselves in our truth, grounding ourselves in our own story. Yes, these painful stories have changed our lives, impacting us in ways we could not have conceived and yet, they are our stories and, speaking our truth makes us strong. Our truth includes suffering and pain but it also includes healing and joy. It includes moving through it to the other side.

Because, on the other side there is healing. There is the ability to love again, and to trust again. And yes, (because some have wondered aloud), on the other side there is good sex as well!

And now go in peace.


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