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Reclaiming the Night and Inspiring a Community

By Amber Versola
News | September 21, 2010

LAWRENCE, Kan. - Thursday night, about 250 people from Lawrence and surrounding areas are expected to converge on South Park at 12th and Massachusetts Streets. In gathering, they will share a common goal - to Take Back the Night.

Take Back the Night is an international movement that aims to eradicate domestic violence and sexual assault through awareness, education, and activism. The movement began in Philadelphia, PA in October of 1975. Original organizers of the first march came together because they were outraged that a young woman was murdered while walking only blocks from her home.

The following year, over two thousand women representing over 40 countries reclaimed the streets of Brussels, Belgium during the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women. In both events, women led a candlelight procession down the streets of the respective cities. The flames of their candles sparked an international movement. Take Back the Night events are now held worldwide, everywhere from Australia to New York, India to Kansas.

It's in Kansas this week that you will find the light is as bright, and the event is as relevant as it was 35 years ago. Unfortunately, not enough has changed since women demanded their right to safely walk down Philadelphia's streets in 1975.

Event goers in Lawrence will likely demand an immediate change as these past couple of years have further reminded us that violence can happen anywhere, including close to home. The Lawrence community is still feeling the loss of beloved KU student and community activist, Jana Mackey. Jana was a young law student whose life was taken in 2008 as a result of intimate partner violence. Her murder proved to us that no one is immune to such violence.

2009 was a deadly year for Kansas women. Somewhere around 34 women and 14 children were murdered in acts of intimate partner violence last year. Almost every week a woman or child was killed by someone they once loved. There is also a suspected serial rapist who has been building fear in the Lawrence and Manhattan communities for almost a decade, and still has not been caught. In addition to this, Kansas is now realizing the magnitude of human trafficking in our state. The "things could be worse" approach is no longer acceptable. The streets of our communities are certainly not safe enough.

Thursday's event serves as a way for the community to reclaim ownership of its streets and to demand an end to the violence.

The free event, which will be held on September 23rd, starts at 5PM with live music in South Park. In addition to the music, there will be a food vendor, informational tables, children's activities, and speakers.

Both the Pantyline Project (undergarments "decorated" by people who have been affected by sexual violence) and the Clothesline Project (t-shirts "decorated" by people who have been affected by domestic violence) will be on display. Vicky Luttrell, the Human Trafficking Task Force Coordinator with the Kansas Attorney General's office will be one of the featured speakers. Officer Todd Polson with the Lawrence Police Department will be recognized for his exemplary responses to domestic violence and for consistently providing appropriate referrals to survivors.

After the rally, participants will march up Massachusetts Street to Buford Watson Park where a speak out circle and candle light vigil will be held. After the speak out circle and vigil, Ellie Smith (one of the area's rising young musical talents) will perform "Beautiful Girls." Ms. Smith wrote the song as an expression of hope for all young girls who are victims of violence. Take Back the Night is a free and family friendly event; although, participants should note that the Pantyline project, the Clothesline project, and the speak out circle are not censored. Sponsors and supporters of the event include: Bambinos At the Grove, Douglas County AIDS Project, GaDuGi SafeCenter, Kansas NOW, KU Commission on the Status of Women, Mass Street Music, and The Willow Domestic Violence Center.


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