Rutgers students decry sexual violence at annual 'Take Back the Night' march
Speaking to a crowd of onlookers bearing signs decrying sexual violence, Cassandra Grod recounted her rape.
“It started off innocent,” the Rutgers School of Social Work junior said. “(We were) walking around waiting for the movie to start. He told me that he had to charge his phone in his car, and before I knew it, I was pinned down in the back of his seat while he was tearing at my clothes trying to get them off.”
Grod was one of roughly 200 students that gathered Wednesday night for “Take Back the Night,” a march and “speak out” dedicated to eradicating sexual and gendered violence, held to support victims, draw attention to and prevent future violence.
“My assailant eventually let me go, but apparently, he followed me home and proceeded to stalk me as well, going through three phones just to try to get a hold of me,” she said. “He followed me into my nightmares and into flashbacks, and I had no idea that this would be the start of one of the most difficult journeys I would ever endeavor.”
It was a journey that she undertook mostly on her own, she said.
Even those she told of her rape offered little assistance. She said this made her feel even more alone, which was made all the worse by those who blamed her for the rape.
“I did what you were supposed to do. It was a well lit area — he tried to rape me in the middle of a public parking lot — there were people walking around. I wouldn't be surprised if some of them saw,” she said. “It felt like I was in a glass box screaming, but no one was listening.”
Only when she reached out to counsellors at the Office of Victim Assistance and Violence Prevention (VPVA) did her situation start to improve.
VPVA, a campus organization that provides confidential counselling to help victims deal with the aftermath of violence, has held Take Back the Night for three years. The third annual march, organized primarily by Women Organizing Against Harassment, garnered more widespread support than its predecessors — over 25 student organizations co-sponsored this year’s event.
Even the University’s administration put its weight behind the march.
“Tonight is just one step, but we have to continue this work, we have to continue it publicly, on campus, off campus and throughout the community to truly make a difference,” said Felicia McGinty, vice chancellor for Student Affairs. “By being here tonight, each of you is making a statement … saying that Rutgers University is not a place that wants to stand for sexual violence.”
McGinty addressed the crowd of students gathered at the Douglass Student Center shortly before they set off on their march down George Street, led by a banner emblazoned with a call to “take back the night” and the names of the march’s sponsors.
Police cars cleared the way while the students chanted, “Claim our bodies, claim our rights. Take a stand, take back the night.” The march rounded its way to Voorhees Mall on the College Avenue Campus, where individual students then vocalized their support and told their stories.
That support is indispensable to those who have survived violence, Grod said.
“There was a time that I confessed that I wish (my rapist had) killed me that day. It seemed easier than dealing with the guilt and the shame,” Grod said. “Now I say the biggest mistake he made was letting me live, because now I'm speaking out and I'm going to make sure … people like (him) never hurt anyone else again.”
Nikita Biryukov is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in journalism and media studies. He is an associate news editor for The Daily Targum. Follow him on Twitter @nikitabiryukov_ for more.