Carolyn’s Comments at the 25th Anniversary of Take Back the Night; April, 24, 2014

Carolyn ZahnerWelcome to the 25th year, the 25th Anniversary of Take Back the Night. We are here, gathered together to issue the challenge: Stop Sexual Assault!  For 25 years we have issued this challenge so that every woman, man and child… so that every person can live in dignity and peace.

Take Back the Night’s mission is to increase the community’s awareness about sexual assault while empowering, unifying and freeing those who have survived incest, rape or assault and to honor those who have not survived.

As your emcee this evening, I would like to take this moment to introduce myself. My name is Carolyn Zahner and I am a psychotherapist in private practice here in Cincinnati. For over 30 years, I have specializing in individual, social and trans generational trauma. I am a survivor myself and had the opportunity to speak out at one of the very early Take Back the Night Events.

In addition to being your emcee, I have been asked to offer some thoughts about our theme, “Looking Back – Moving Forward.”

From the spring board of the 1960’s, the ‘70’s found women creating agencies of hope and change for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. A new era had dawned and the truth would no longer be hidden in the shadows. As a result, Take Back the Night was birthed in our community in 1989 -   Community agencies coming together; then and now - and so we celebrate this 25th year of commitment.

We are celebrating the services and heightened awareness, as we should. And yet, don’t we all dream of a day when such services would be obsolete? Don’t we dream that we will not need to be here 25 years from now?

But today, we need to be here. Sexual violence against women and children in all of its forms continues to increase. We find it exploding on the internet with increased child pornography, pedophiles having greater access to a growing number of children. Women continue to be sexually assaulted in our homes, work places, universities and armed forces. While the vast majority of sexual assault victims are women and girls, we cannot ignore the fact that many young boys are sexually abused - as are vulnerable men. Yes, we know who the victims are, we know how to serve them, we know the issues. We speak out, over and over. And yet, we have not impacted the growing cancer of violence and sexual abuse.

Looking back 5000 years, we find the beginning of a social and moral culture that not only allowed but deeply sanctified the violence, sexual abuse and degradation of women and children. It continues today and we call it “Rape Culture.” And it is alive and well.  It sits in our bones, in our very DNA. We cannot fail to recognize the powerful tentacles of the past reaching far too deeply into our present.
Earlier, we heard MUSE; Cincinnati Women’s Choir, sing a song entitled, “I Feel Like Going On.”  But how?  Where do we find our strength and perseverance to feel like going on?

One way is by acknowledging the women who came before us. We acknowledge the fierce love, perseverance and strength that are also in our DNA. We honor the women killed for speaking in public by continuing to raise our voices in the public forum. We remember Elizabeth Cady Stanton fighting her entire life without living to see women’s suffrage come into being. We vote. We step out as healers, claiming our own ways, remembering those who died as witches by noose or fire. Today, we acknowledge the human sex trafficking that is inherent in prostitution and pornography. We name it what it is: slavery. We take courage from Sojourner Truth, a woman who escaped slavery, only to return to the slave states over and over to lead others out of hell. And so we commit to do the same. We claim our own smallness and our greatness; as did our ancestors…and we feel like going on.

We go on to end this hell by acknowledge that domestic violence and sexual assault are not “Women’s Issues” but Human Issues. No matter how politically correct we want to be, we cannot escape the fact that 99% of sexual violence is perpetrated by men: men perpetrating against women, children and yes, other men.

We cannot continue to only focus on teaching girls and women how to not be victims. We must move to the vital work of teaching boys and men how to not be perpetrators. We must expand beyond only asking, “What is going on with women?”…and include the important question, “What is going on with men?”

Old loyalties to generations of abuse – the entanglements run deep.
The little boy’s untended wounds of childhood abuse, the man’s deep wounds from combat…too often left to fester… explode into acts of sexual violence. Too often young boys and men cannot find permission, or motivation, to heal deep wound. And the other faces of the perpetrator? Young men in college fraternities, in the military and on sports teams commit sexual assault out of their historic privilege that grants a misguided sense of “rightful” domination and entitlement. And, many non-perpetrating men, held in that same cradle of entitlement, continue to maintain a silence that screams complicity.

Martin Luther King stated, “In the end what will hurt the most are not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”

Today some men are refusing to stand in complicit silence. Organizations like Ohio Men’s Action Network are active in questioning the socialization of boys and the very definition of “manhood.”  Men are holding each other responsible for their behavior… this is our hope for the future.

In conclusion, we all, women and men together, must acknowledge our past, act in our present … And envision a future where the Night is Free.  It is our work to do.    Thank you.

Closing of the program:

Once again, for the 25th year, we have issued a challenge to Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky; Stop Sexual Assault!  This challenge need not stop tonight simply because we go home and Take Back the Night is over for another year.  This challenge can be issued every day from each one of us in our discussions and actions.  It is only in this way, taking the responsibility of awareness and prevention upon ourselves, that we, women and men together - not in opposition, create a culture that will put an end to sexual violence.

As we close this evening, we would like to end with a moment of light and silence.

May the lights we hold serve as a beacon to those who are hiding in the darkness of sexual assault.
May our light reach them and guide them to a path of safety, healing and peace.
May we carry the light of hope into the future.

May we hold our silence in remembrance and respect for the many that have died at the hands of their attackers.
May their spirits live on within each of us.

While in this sea of stillness and light, I invite you to breathe deeply. Breathe in peace. Breathe in safety. Feel the presence of those who stand behind you and beside you. Each of us, are the Standing Stone for the other. So yes, allow yourself to breathe deeply as we enter the silence and hold our lights for all to see.

(a moment of silence held by all)

And so, may each of you feel like going on…
Good Evening and deep peace to all.