Broken promises: ‘Take Back the Night’ raises awareness on sexual violence

Content warning: This article includes references to sexual violence.

Around 100 students and Stanford affiliates assembled in Meyer Green on Tuesday night to participate in Take Back the Night (TBTN), an event hosted across several college campuses, with the hope to raise awareness about sexual violence and create space for survivors to share experiences.

This year’s TBTN started a demonstration in Meyer Green, before the group marched silently across campus to Toyon Hall, where organizers hosted a “Speak-Out” and invited people to share personal stories.

The Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Education (SHARE) Title IX Office hosted events throughout April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). This year’s national SAAM theme, chosen by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, is “Building Connected Communities.”

To start the event, SHARE student staff member Sofia Penglase ’25 invited students to “reflect on the ways in which we can include international student voices in Campus Sexual Violence Prevention discourse.” She interpreted the theme as a way to honor international student communities.

Penglase introduced student speakers Zoya Fasihuddin ’26, Ashton Woods JD ’24, Riya Ranjan ’26 and Malavika Kannan ’24 at Meyer Green.

Fasihuddin, an international student from Pakistan, shared her experience with assault in high school. Due to a “lack of support” and “the failing justice system,” the men who assaulted her walked free, Fasihuddin said.

Attending Stanford was her “first time coming to a country that actually has laws like Title IX to prohibit sexual violence in schools and colleges,” she said.

Fasihuddin said that SHARE started strategies to make resources more accessible to international students, like culturally-specific resources and guides on how to navigate traumatic experiences.

Some speakers called on Stanford to expand its resources or revisit its approach to sexual violence.

Woods and Ranjan founded the Stanford Campus Survivor’s Pro Bono (CSPB) to give survivors at Stanford and other universities a strong legal voice through the Title IX process. “[It is] meant to be the safety that survivors can seek in one of the worst moments of their lives,” Ranjan said.

In the 2022-23 academic year, 45% of cases did not have enough information to result in a resolution, according to the annual Title IX/Sexual Harassment Report.

“Unfortunately, legal and quasi-legal processes like Title IX are often re-traumatizing and very painful,” Woods said. “Survivors who are in the position to pursue formal disciplinary action against perpetrators often face disbelief, condescension and repeated violation of their privacy.” 

Following student speeches, Grace Ghaffari, an assistant director with SHARE Education, invited students to reflect on what it means to affirm their own, as well as others’, sexual citizenship. “Considering that we are in a shared community, what might it also look like if we take accountability when we will undoubtedly mess up, because we are imperfect creatures?” Ghaffari asked.

Student organizers distributed posters for students to hold up during the silent march across campus with phrases like “I won’t be quiet so you can be comfortable,” and “How I dress does not mean yes.”

The march led attendees to Toyon for the Speak-Out, where an open mic session gave survivors an opportunity to speak about experiences. Serving as a space to be vulnerable and uplift survivors towards healing, the Speak-Out provided a platform to attendees, including some speakers who shared stories publicly for the first time.

Waves of speakers came to the microphone, many expressed that they were moved by previous attendees and unexpectedly gained confidence to address the audience. Participants poured out their experiences to the audience, met with respectful silence and applause by the attendees.

Rehman Hassan ’27, an attendee, found the event critical for both awareness and healing, humanizing the survivors of sexual assault.

“Hearing from so many survivors has been incredibly powerful and reminds us that we can’t represent people through statistics,” Hassan said. “People aren’t statistics, people are humans. And every time we hear about sexual violence, that’s a human who has been hurt and damaged for their lifetime.”

While he appreciates the event, Hassan also recognized the University’s responsibility to create “home” for students at Stanford.

“The first thing I heard on campus was, ‘this will be your new home for the next four years,’” Hassan said. “Are people raped in their homes? Should people be raped in their homes? Should people be forced to live [on campus] with their rapists for years? That doesn’t sound like home to me; that sounds like a nightmare.”

In expressing his disappointment in University response to sexual assault and violence cases, Hassan referenced Chanel Miller, a case that struck the nation a few years ago. Miller, who survived sexual assault by former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner in 2015, released her memoir “Know My Name” in 2019 in response to the controversy surrounding the case, one primarily the lack of justice, as Turner only served three months of his six month jail sentence.

“Know My Name” copies were available for attendees. Outside the main speaking venue, the SHARE office also tabled to provide support to students during and after the session.

SHARE will also host a circle to process TBTN at Kingscote Gardens on Wednesday night and provide a confidential space to share experiences of sexual and interpersonal violence.