Apr 232002

My opening disclaimer is this: I’m a big fan of Take Back the Night and the Campus Women’s Alliance program which, among other things, strives to increase public awareness of assaults against women. It is a quite worthwhile project with a strong tradition in Fort Collins. My question, however, is if Take Back the Night, despite being noble, is effective.

Take the most recent rally, for example. It was cold outside and quite wet at times. For a brief while, you could see some zealots walking down College Avenue, shouting a few slogans while being escorted by a police car and a block of slowed traffic. Those present at the wee rallies were composed of – you guessed it – champions and sympathizers of the cause. But, other than a small blurb on Fox 31 that night, the voices went pretty much unheard. The cliche in this case is perfect – Preaching to the Choir.

Who is the target audience of Take Back the Night?

Is it the people who attend the rallies? Probably not. These people already show they care about assaults against women. They may receive some mental ammunition to spread around town, but, more than likely, it will not be novel information. In essence, these people are present because they care, but their attitudes do not need to be changed. They are the “good people.”

Is it lawmakers? Not really. It is highly illegal to assault anyone, regardless of his or her sex or sexual preference. About the only thing lawmakers could do is make penalties for assaults much more severe or put pressure on enforcement agencies to allocate more funds and people to solving cases and pursuing evildoers. Many would argue these increased efforts are not necessary – they are already as effective as they realistically can be.

Is it rapists? Certainly not, or at least not effectively. Unless the rapist in question is more canny and diabolical that a hybrid of Professor Moriarty and Hannibal Lector, you probably won’t find him anywhere close to a Take Back the Night Rally. Odds are, one night in Old Town wouldn’t change his personality, nor would encountering one of the “good people” with their fresh assortment of anti-assault and awareness information rewire his brain into being a decent human being.

How about “pseudorapists,” folks that could be pushed over the edge and commit an assault? Sure, they could be pushed back towards the side of goodness and niceness, I suppose. In fact, this group is likely the best target group for rallies such as Take Back the Night. This is, of course, assuming they would attend. Or have friends that attend. Or read a few paragraphs in their local newspaper.

Take Back the Night is, quite simply, just another way to increase public awareness of something the public should already be aware of. Personally, I think awareness these days should already be pretty high. Every other day it seems they talk about an assault in the news. CSU Police Chief Donn Hopkins very often sends out e-mails about increasing campus safety, particularly after the recent wave of assaults. Awareness, however, is only half the battle.

What action comes out of Take Back the Night and other awareness programs? Is there a noticeable effect? It doesn’t look like it. Take Back the Night has been going on for years and years, but never have the assaults around town been as bad as they are now. What was it Solomon said? “What is the advantage to him [or her] who toils for the wind?”

Yeah, it’s great to be aware of assaults against women, but if there is no action associated with this awareness, then it is pointless. Just how we can get more action to effectively cease assaults against women is a mystery to me. Hopefully, though, with a year to plan, others may find one.

Otherwise, Take Back the Night will continue to just be a toil for the wind.

Ken is a microbiology grad student.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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