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Rally supporters make statement, demand change

Blank T-shirts are provided so those attending the rally can write their own sentiments. Many then wear the symbolic T-shirts during the Main Street march. <i>Submitted photos</i>

It could be a long night, but shedding light on one of society's dark, ugly problems makes it seem worth the time and effort.

The second annual Take Back the Night rally, march and candlelight vigil sponsored by the St. Croix Valley Sexual Assault Response (SART) team begins outside at St. Bridget Catholic School, 211 E. Division St., at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 25.

Similar Take Back the Night rallies are planned across the country. April is also designated Sexual Assault Awareness month.

Some 150 people showed up for the various activities during the night at last year's Take Back rally in River Falls.

This year one organizer predicted that turnout may double.

Take Back the Night is a grassroots movement that started almost 40 years ago as a way to draw attention to sexual violence and abuse.

According to a statement by SART, "This movement has inspired men and women to take a stand against violence...offering those who have been victims a chance to heal."

SART Client Service Coordinator Erin McNiff explained why these rallies mean something:

"Sexual assault is a silent crime that many people do not talk about," she said. "The truth is there is so much education that needs to be done. This small event at least demonstrates to our communities that we choose not to tolerate this violence.

"I would hope that people talk about it after the event -- what they learned, how they felt -- and then stand up for victims, stop blaming victims for something that another person did to them."

McNiff said the rally's aim boils down to this: "We need to start blaming the rapist for raping, start talking about it and teaching our community to end the rape culture that continues to allow this crime to occur."

Those who attend Take Back the Night in River Falls will gather first at the playground area of St. Bridget School.

McNiff said this is a good central site in town, with space outside for younger children to play and plenty of parking in the school lot.

The rally features a march down the east side of Main Street to the stoplight at Walnut Street before doubling back on the west side. Police will help with traffic control.

Volunteers will stay behind at St. Bridget's for those not wanting or unable to march.

Before the march, participants may write on or decorate blank T-shirts and posters with sex-assault related themes. They may choose to wear the T-shirts and hold posters while marching.

McNiff said a candlelight vigil during the rally has solemn overtones. Josie Olson, a recent UW-River Falls graduate who performed last year, will play acoustic guitar.

"Everyone receives a candle, which represents shining light through the darkness," said McNiff, adding that Take Back the Night rallies were once held in the middle of the night. "Soft music will play and anyone may speak. It's not just victims who tell their story. Typically, victims do talk about the strength they have found.

"Last year we had three individuals break their silence for the first time ever about their assault. One person could only get out that she didn't want to be silent anymore, but that took so much strength and it was very moving."

Free food and beverages, donated by local businesses, will be available at the rally.

McNiff said the local Take Back the Night rally will go on even if there's rain -- or snow. She said there will be tents on standby.

"Here's the way I see it," McNiff said. "I'll take a stand, speak out, and advocate for three hours if it would make any difference stopping sexual violence.

"A victim's pain lasts a lifetime. I can always change my clothes and warm up."

Years ago local Take Back rallies were sponsored by a UWRF women's group that has since disbanded.

River Falls-based SART has now taken over the rally's sponsorship.

SART has a comprehensive sexual assault treatment center.

Among its multiple services: 24-hour care; forensic nurse professionals for medical care; collection of forensic evidence; and treatment for the prevention of sexual transmitted infections and pregnancies.

Sexual assault victims at SART have access to volunteers and staff who provide emotional care throughout the medical process, assist nurses during exams, and provide advocacy and counseling afterward.

Call SART for more information about the rally: 715-425-6443.