On March 21, survivors, friends, and strangers gathered outside of Houston Hall for the University's annual Take Back The Night march. Not even the remnants of the winter wind could dissuade the dedicated protestors from their mission to be heard. Cries of “take back the night!” filled the air and the ears of passersby with the longing chords of an anthem advocating for change. 

Take Back The Night (TBTN) emerged in the 1970s as a response to increased sexual violence towards women in major cities in the United States, including Philadelphia. The movement gathered momentum on American college campuses, where community members could participate in rallies and marches. Today, it has evolved into a global phenomenon inclusive of other genders and minorities at risk. 

The global movement’s mission is “to end all forms of sexual violence, including sexual assault, sexual abuse, trafficking, stalking, gender harassment, and relationship violence, and to support survivors in their healing journeys.” In addition to demonstrative events on college campuses, the foundation organizes an array of fundraising activities and has established the free 567-SHATTER hotline for survivors seeking legal advice. 

Anna Bellows (C '25) is a board member of Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention (ASAP) at Penn, the on–campus club that organized the March 21 event. She firmly believes that issues related to sexual assault and sexual violence need to be articulated on all college campuses. During her time at Penn, Anna has promised to “make as much noise” as possible to combat these issues and raise awareness among students and administrators. 

“We know the stats are absolutely staggering. One in four women experienced sexual misconduct on campuses within their college years” Anna said. The numbers speak for themselves. The unsettling but indisputable fact that 26.4% of women and 6.8% of men experience some sort of sexual abuse when they are undergraduates is a fact often addressed during New Student Orientation. However, after this initial week of informational sessions for first–year students, the University seems to drop the subject. 

Anna emphasized the importance of ongoing campus resources for survivors. “Penn Violence Prevention is an incredible resource that is provided. They always need more funding, they always need more resources, they always need more people.” 

Anna urges all Penn students, even those who have not been directly impacted by sexual violence, to participate in advocacy efforts for survivors. “We want everyone to get involved,” she said, reiterating that “being vocal about change that needs to be made rather than having it happen under the guise of policy change is really important.” 

By encouraging all students to participate in programs and events like TBTN, organizers remind community members of the presence of sexual violence on campus. With their heads raised and signs of protest hoisted, important messages were carried with the wind down Locust Walk. “The way I dress is not a yes!” in unison. 

TBTN participant Hannah Bast (C '25) found the event to be particularly empowering. “It was honestly incredible and very moving to be in such a big and loud crowd,” she said, referencing the march portion of the event. A sense of community is crucial when addressing social issues through the form of public outcry. Community–based organizing, such as protests, can be instrumental. 

Hannah expresses her hopes for the future of sexual violence prevention on campus. “I hope that people reflect on not just not perpetuating violence, but actively being anti–violence,” she said.

Often, some community members feel discouraged from participating in anti–violence organizing because they haven't directly experienced sexual violence. Sarah Jane Runge, a first–year graduate student at the School of Social Policy and Practice and an outspoken survivor of sexual abuse, knows that there are people who are “rooting” for survivors like her and “want to make things better.” 

But Runge stresses that there should be higher attendance at events like TBTN. All Penn community members, despite their proximity to the cause, can display their allyship for survivors of sexual violence. There is power in numbers — the crowd is louder and the impact is more noticeable. 

“I have a frame of reference for sexual violence prevention on college campuses,” Sarah Jane said, recalling her experiences at her undergraduate university. “It’s kind of jarring how there are shortcomings at Penn, even though it is such an elite institution.” 

Despite the extensive education offered at Penn, sexual assault prevention is minimal. Penn Violence Prevention is a resource that offers workshops to student groups that request them, but there are no mandatory programs beyond NSO “consent circles.”  

Sarah Jane recognizes the merits behind focusing on NSO, recommending that Penn implement further red–zone programming to prevent sexual violence, referring to the period of time at the beginning of school when sexual misconduct is most likely to occur. But while consent circles are an example of red–zone programming, beyond this, Penn falls short. “Sometimes, you need to prioritize the people,” she said. 

Saara Ghani (C '25) served as coordinator of TBTN, a position that she is honored to hold for the second year in a row. Recalling last year’s event, Ghani remembers how moving the experience was, encouraging her to participate again. 

“Knowing there is someone else who understands how you feel can be very reassuring. We want to generate a little bit of hope for anyone who needs it,” she said.

Ghani believes that everyone has a role to play in sexual violence prevention. Most importantly, she emphasizes how sexual violence prevention doesn’t only matter for the duration of TBTN, but every day. Penn community members should work to take back all nights, not only tonight. 

Reach–A–Peer Hotline: 215-573-2727 (every day from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.), A peer hotline to provide peer support, information, and referrals to Penn students.

Penn Violence Prevention: 3535 Market Street, Mezzanine Level (Office Hours: 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday–Friday), 12–5 p.m. Wednesdays & 12–5 p.m. Fridays located in Penn Women’s Center (3643 Locust Walk), Read the Penn Violence Prevention resource guide. 

Sexual Trauma Treatment Outreach and Prevention Team: A multidisciplinary team at CAPS dedicated to supporting students who have experienced sexual trauma.

Public Safety Special Services: Trained personnel offer crisis intervention, accompaniment to legal and medical proceedings, options counseling and advocacy, and linkages to other community resources.

Penn Women's Center: 3643 Locust Walk (Office Hours 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. Monday–Thursday, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m. Friday), pwc@pbox.upenn.edu. PWC provides confidential crisis and options counseling.