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Updated 9:30 AM April 9, 2007




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Rally organizers seek to overcome controversy,
expand participation

Organizers of the 28th annual Take Back the Night rally and march through the streets of Ann Arbor hope to resolve a controversy attached to this year's march before it is held April 13.

The controversy is over how some funds are raised to support the march sponsored by the University Women Against Rape and the Ann Arbor Coalition Against Rape, to raise awareness and fight sexualized violence in the community.

Each year, fundraisers are held to raise money and to alert the community of the upcoming event. In addition to a Jazzercise Benefit and a Polo Fields Benefit Dinner this year, a bar night was held in March at Live at PJ's. No money was made from alcohol sales, only from the cover charge at the door. Still, the fundraiser stirred up controversy as TBTN's planners received several complaints about the appropriateness of the bar as a place to raise money to support the march, as alcohol often is involved in sexual assault.

Co-facilitator Jessica Johnson emphasizes, however, that "TBTN is not about putting limits on what people can do. The point is number one, to reclaim our right to be safe anytime and anywhere, and number two, for perpetrators to be held responsible. Sexualized violence doesn't happen because women go to the bar; it happens because perpetrators commit the crimes. This fundraiser was about empowerment and spreading our message in an already common environment for college students."

Johnson, a U-M Hospital staff member, and the other organizers also viewed the controversy as an opportunity to spark more ideas. They have scheduled a roundtable discussion today (April 9) called "Preventing Sexual Violence in Our Community" from 7-9 p.m. in the School of Social Work commons.

"We wanted to set something up where we could invite members from the community and the University and start a dialogue," Johnson says. "Real change happens when we get the ideas flowing in all directions. This roundtable is a chance for us to ask everyone else what they think. It is part of building networks in the community and having a support system. The march is a great thing, and raises awareness, but people tend to ask what they can do to end it. We're hoping to address this with the roundtable."

The planning committee for TBTN also hopes this year's march will become more diverse, something they have tried to achieve by reaching out to numerous facets of the University and the Ann Arbor community. "It often ends up being a white female University event. We want to stress that sexualized violence can happen to anyone. We allow men to march and we are trying to increase the involvement of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community," Johnson says.

Take Back the Night will begin April 13 with a rally at 7 p.m. on the U-M Diag. A block-long stretch of the march in the areas surrounding East Quad and West Quad will be done in silence, in commemoration of people who have lost their voices because of sexualized violence.

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