Lawrence community members ‘take back the night,’ empower survivors of sexual violence

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Messages of support, lit candles and empowering community love for survivors of sexual assault occupied South Park on Thursday evening. Community members gathered to take action for sexual violence prevention and against attacks on human rights.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center on Thursday hosted its annual “Take Back the Night” event, an evening of prevention education and solidarity with sexual violence survivors.

Last year brought more survivors to the Care Center than any previous year in its 50 years of operation, and this year is on track to be worse, Care Center Executive Director Jennifer Ananda told attendees.

“As an undergraduate a few decades ago, I used to plan this event as part of a campus organization,” Ananda said. “Sadly, we’re still in the park seeking sexual safety 20 years later. We’re still here for the same reasons.”

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Jennifer Ananda, executive director of the Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center, speaks at Take Back the Night on April 27, 2023 at South Park.

The event’s platform was also used to amplify human rights issues at stake in the Kansas Legislature. In addition to Ananda’s speech on sexual violence, midwife and Vote No Kansas founder Melinda Lavon spoke to attendees about abortion legislation and KU Law professor Kyle Velte spoke to attendees about anti-trans legislation. 

“We are not experiencing violence that is just relegated to the night,” Ananda said. “It is here standing boldly in the daylight and we must take a stand as all of you are doing right now right here.”

Reproductive care and abortion access should be available for all people who need it, including sexual violence survivors, and reproductive control is a form of sexual violence, Anada said. 

Though Kansas voters in August last year soundly voted to maintain legal abortion in the state, the Legislature has introduced numerous anti-abortion bills. House Bill 2313, the “born alive” bill, will now become law after being approved by the House and Senate, and the House so far has also voted to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of two other abortion-related bills.

All hands on deck to join the work of Vote No Kansas and similar local organizations are needed, Lavon said.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Melinda Lavon speaks at Take Back the Night.

“If you don’t like what the Kansas Legislature is doing, then set an intention to change it,” Lavon said. “What we are missing are the direct actions of people like yourselves to change the status quo. I urge you to reject the status quo. We do not have to accept this, and over the next year and a half, we can prepare to change who is making our laws in the state of Kansas.”

Though minors in Kansas will still be able to receive gender-affirming care, since Kelly vetoed Senate Bill 26 and the Legislature failed to override it — the Legislature managed to override several anti-trans bills, which Velte discussed.

Senate Bill 180, nicknamed the “women’s bill of rights,” dictates that bathroom access is based on biological sex and not gender identity. It was passed by the Senate on Wednesday.

Molly Adams/Lawrence Times Kyle Velte speaks at Take Back the Night.

Velte encouraged attendees to seek sources of joy as much as possible during these “dark times.”

“All through history, LGBTQ people have been facing discrimination, violence and stigma,” Velte said.

“In the face of that marginalization, it’s a powerful act of resistance to feel joy — to show queer love, to show trans joy — in public spaces, if you feel safe doing so. It asserts our right to exist, to love and to express ourselves freely without fear of judgment or prosecution, and it challenges the idea that’s been around forever that queer people should live in shame and secrecy.”

Earlier in the event, there was a resource fair where community members could learn more about sexual violence prevention as well as access to help for survivors and their loved ones. Amid candlelit glows in South Park, attendees sat in a circle where people could freely share their personal experiences and stories to close out the night. Vulnerability was met with support.

“We will continue to be here for the next 50 years and for the next 50 years,” Ananda said of the Care Center. “Whatever it takes to provide a place of safety and service for survivors of sexual violence in our community.”

Visit The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center’s website at stacarecenter.org to learn more about its sexual prevention work and free support services.

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Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact the CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator: Students can make an appointment by email, care@ku.edu, or by calling 785-864-9255. It’s free, confidential and voluntary to talk with the CARE Coordinator. All genders welcome. Read more here.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link. Specific information about sexual assault exams can be found here.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance. (Note: CARE Sisters provide peer support and education, but this is not a 24/7 service like others listed here.)
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
More resources
  • StrongHearts Native Helpline: Call 1-844-7NATIVE (762-8483) for 24/7 safe, confidential and anonymous domestic and sexual violence support for Native Americans and Alaska Natives that is culturally appropriate.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

Molly Adams (she/her), photojournalist and news operations coordinator for The Lawrence Times, can be reached at molly (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Check out more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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