On Thursday, protesters gathered for the “Take Back the Night” march to the Capitol in support of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Take Back the Night is an international movement aimed at raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence and empowering women to “take back the night,” Heather Driscoll, lead organizer of the movement, said.

“Traditionally, women have been told to not walk alone late at night and that it is their responsibility to take care of themselves,” Driscoll said. “The purpose of tonight is to come together as a community and raise awareness about sexual violence and to give a space for survivors to heal.”

The theme for Thursday’s event, as well as the theme for the entire month, is that people’s voices have power, Driscoll said.

The event started at Library Mall, where protesters gathered and made signs. Protesters then marched up Langdon Street, chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, sexual violence has got to go,” and “People unite, take back the night.”

The march ended at the Capitol, where members lit candles while listening to speakers against sexual violence and several victims who shared their stories.

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“We walk to celebrate the steps we are taking to heal and support those who are healing,” Driscoll said. “The light from our candles represents our commitment to supporting survivors. We unite to represent our collective strength.”

The first speaker of the night was Eileen Zeiger, the director of education and outreach at the Rape Crisis Center.

Zeiger said this is not an individual issue but a community issue — something which said made this march so important.

“When we come together, our voices are very powerful, and I hope that you all feel connected to the history of this issue — that when you march with these people, you march with everyone around the country, and everyone who has marched in the years past,” Zeiger said.

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Zeiger said her goal is for the community to work together to create a place where survivors are believed and supported, and where sexual assault is not tolerated.

Ali Muldrow, a community activist, shared her experience as a security guard in a Madison high school, where she encountered sexual assault.

“Many people will say change is possible, but the truth is that change is inevitable. Our response to sexual assault is to constantly blame, constantly to point fingers and to dodge the real issue,” Muldrow said. “We have the power to shape our community into something it has never been.”

Following Muldrow were several victims of sexual assault, who shared their stories, their healing and the importance of the march to them.

Dane County Supervisor Sheila Stubbs, District 23, spoke of how important it is for women to speak out, especially college students.

“We must, as a country, be willing to learn about equal access for women,” Stubbs said. “Women must be safe on all of our college and university campuses. It is important that the message of the survivors reach each level of government and each person on campuses. No means no.”

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To conclude, state Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, said society has to find a way to make everyone feel safe.  

Taylor said the goal is to make sure no woman feels uncomfortable or has to deal with the weight of a sexual assault again.

“I do feel like there is an energy in this movement right now and that we have to take these words tonight and run with it,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to make sure that we turn these words into action. We need to say ‘No more, enough is enough, and no means no.’ And we are going to change the state in this country.”