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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Women walk for sexual assault prevention, awareness

At dusk, women will try to reclaim the night.

At 7:30 p.m. today, they’ll walk from the Plaza of the Americas through campus as a symbolic gesture to make the night safe for sexual abuse victims and the Gainesville community.

Take Back the Night, an international march and protest against sexual assault and rape, will end at the Reitz Union with a speech from keynote speaker Lauren Book, who was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, and an opportunity for other rape and assault victims to share their stories with the group.

“Historically, women have faced anxiety walking alone at night,” said Elizabeth Zatz, a coordinator of the event and a peer educator for Sexual Trauma/Interpersonal Violence Education at UF.

“When I came to UF, I was discouraged from walking alone at night, even with all of the safety measures taken here,” Zatz said. “Friends would tell me to take Student Nighttime Auxiliary Patrol or the bus. I didn’t inherently fear walking alone on campus at night, but the fear was instilled in me.”

Of female sexual assault victims, 73 percent are assaulted by someone they know, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime.

Assaults committed by strangers get more media attention, said Laura Kalt, advocate counselor for Alachua County Victim Services & Rape Crisis Center and another coordinator of the event.

“Take Back the Night is raising awareness that sexual assault is impacting you, your sisters, cousins, friends, future daughters, co-workers and moms,” said Ron Del Moro, a STRIVE peer educator. “It is affecting more people than you know.”

This event is not just for women. It is important for men to be involved, Del Moro said.

“There are so many ways men have perpetuated sexual assault,” Del Moro said. “The way we invalidate one’s experience and don’t stop our buddies when we see them doing something they shouldn’t is awful.” 

One of the biggest ways people can make a difference is through bystander intervention, he said.

“If you see something shady, it may not be OK,” he said. “Step up and stop it. Let’s evolve a little bit, men. Let’s talk about sex, and do it the right, healthy way.”

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