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Over a hundred Ohio University students, staff members and Athens community members poured out of Baker University Center and onto Court Street on April 5 to demand for safer streets. People from a wide range of gender identities and ages attended the march, their chants filling the street. Over the years, the debate of whether men should be included in the march has been an integral part of the organizing process. This year, coordinators of the march decided male survivors and allies needed to be clearly represented in the march. Dr. M. Geneva Murray, director of the Women’s Center, was an essential part of organizing this year’s Take Back the Night and establishing the line-up of speakers.
“If we reflect on what the national narrative has been and we reflect on the percentages; it’s more often that women are assaulted by men,” said Dr. Murray. “I get that and that speaks truth to me. But at the same time, I wonder what those conversations and those debates about whether or not men can participate, what the impact that has on male survivors.”
Male survivors like the keynote speaker, Tim Mousseau, do not often feel comfortable talking about their experiences with assault. During the preparation of the event, there was a lot of conversation around this year’s keynote speaker because of his gender and the lack of conversation about male survivors.
“I thought about when I told my family about it, and their response was they didn’t know if they could believe me because a man wouldn’t let themselves get raped,” said Mousseau.
The inclusion of a male survivor’s narrative leading up to Ohio University’s Take Back the Night march prompted event organizers from the Women’s Center and Survivor Advocacy Program (SAP) to look at the history of men’s inclusion.
“While we say historically here in Athens, Ohio, men weren’t allowed to participate, I think that that is a bit of historical amnesia,” said Dr. Murray. “Because posters from 1982, I believe, are saying men and women welcome.”
The history of men’s inclusion in OU’s Take Back the Night is complicated. In 1997, there was a special presentation in the week leading up to the march about whether men should be included and how they should be included. “
There was a statement in one of the papers that someone’s perpetrator came out from one of the bars and joined the march,” said Dr. Murray. “And people were horrified, and rightly so.”
While the Women’s Center is making efforts to be transparent about the inclusion of male identifying members in the Take Back the Night Movement, campus services such as Survivor Advocacy Programs, or SAP, are trying their best to be inclusive as well. Kim Castor, one of the the directors of SAP, explained such expansion.
“Somethings that we’ve been trying to do to kinda break down that barrier and that stigma is more actively bring in male speakers to show that it is something that happens to males,” said Castor. “It’s not just a female problem.”
SAP is making changes in their departmental efforts as well. In the upcoming year they will be hiring a male staff member in the effort of making clients more comfortable if they would prefer to talk to a male. With the change in SAP, Take Back the Night is also changing to include and welcome all survivors and allies.
“I’m happy that this year, when you looked out into the ballroom as survivor speakers were speaking, that we saw a diverse population in front of us,” said Dr. Murray.
With the larger partnership brought a larger audience. In the crowd was Nino Bradley, a resident director of James Hall, along with his family. The narrative that impacted him the most was from Mousseau. “Usually when we hear about sexual assault we hear about women, and obviously that is the majority but we rarely talk about or hear about men who are affected by it as well,” said Bradley. “I think it was good for him to be able to share a story in that space. Feel comfortable sharing that story especially the way our society is with masculinity and what not. ”
After sharing his story, Mousseau provided statistics on survivors. On a college campus, about 6 percent of men will experience sexual violence. He shared that men are more likely to experience sexual violence before the age of 18, but that men generally don’t process sexual violence until age of 27.
“We’ve heard messages from men who have emailed, or have come up to us, and said, ‘Thank you,” said Dr. Murray. “‘Thank you for having a male speaker, it showed me that we could talk.’”