By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
On Wednesday, February 24, viewers joined a YouTube livestream to watch this year’s Take Back the Night event. Normally, the event is held in November at Needham High School, but pandemic circumstances this year brought it to the virtual stage.
The new setting did not dampen the emotional power that comes with raising awareness about sexual violence and violence against women.
The event began with a brief introduction from members of Needham High School’s Take Back the Night club. These students provided shocking facts about sexual violence, as well as preventative measures to help stop people from experiencing this abuse. Included in it were hotlines, organizations, and statistics so that people could immediately have resources should they need to leave before the end of the event.
The night included powerful moments that made the audience truly think about the effect of sexual violence. One of the featured speakers of the night was a victim of childhood sexual abuse. He shared his story, how it affected his life, and how he eventually was able to find help and get on the road to recovery.
The speaker was so hard on himself that when his abuser was finally caught due to another crime, he still didn’t speak up about his own abuse. “I felt sick to my stomach. I felt bad about what happened to the others, and thought it was my fault. I thought if I said something sooner maybe it wouldn’t have happened to others. I was wrong but I didn’t know it at the time,” explained the speaker. He added that keeping that secret was the worst thing in his life. Years later, the speaker found Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) that helped him continue on his road to recovery. After sharing his story, viewers were able to use the chat function to ask questions and gain an insight on how to help others or themselves.
Mixed into the event were performances from local a cappella groups and pre-recorded messages from local officials. Brandeis University’s groups Up the Octave and Rather Be Giraffes sang covers of “Lights” by Journey and “Keeps me Warm” by Mary Lambert, respectively, while Needham High School’s Fermata Nowhere arranged a cover of Hozier’s “Work Song.” Representative Garlick and Lieutenant Carroll at the Needham Police Department contributed pre-recorded messages, with Lieutenant Carroll highlighting that domestic violence calls and restraining orders have severely increased in the last year, with many victims stuck in homes with their abusers.
Planning around the pandemic came with its challenges. Take Back the Night had never been held virtually before, and that required some changes to the normal program. “This year, we were unable to hold the event in person, and we had to figure out a way to hold the event virtually," said Alexandra Goodale, co-chair of the Take Back the Night club. "This was definitely a big challenge; none of the co-chairs or advisors had ever run a virtual event before, so we had to get more technologically knowledgeable. Another challenge was how to get speakers/music/show the silent witness exhibit. Because of confidentiality, we were unsure if we would be able to get survivor speakers. Luckily, Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), who usually provides us with speakers, was able to find a speaker willing to talk over Zoom.”
The most powerful moment of the night came in the form of the Silent Witnesses exhibit, wherein members of the club read the stories of victims who lost their lives in 2020 due to incidents of domestic violence. While the segment is powerful on its own as it calls attention to the worst result of abuse, included in this year’s names was Kathleen McLearn, a 45-year old mother from Dover, who was murdered by her husband in May. Though it may have been hard to hear, it was a reminder that domestic abuse can happen anywhere, and to anyone.
As it always is, Take Back the Night was a powerful event that brought awareness about sexual violence and violence against women. While it may have been hard to hear at some moments, the event served its purpose, leaving its audience educated and armed with resources to help individuals and their loved ones who are being abused.