Light Up the Night

In the midst of John Krakauer’s successful book calling out the mishandling of rape cases in a small town called Missoula, I attended the 55349274e7d73.image_.jpgsurvivors-of-sexual violence rally in the same little town just a few months ago. The sad thing is, as Krakauer points out in his book, Missoula is not alone in its negligent actions and seeming-inability to properly prosecute rape cases and prevent sexual assault. In fact, Missoula is the norm.  (See graph below.)

While speaking to a Missoula officer about something unrelated to sexual violence, he off-handedly mentioned to me the subject of sexual assault and scoffed at how the media was apparently blowing it out of proportion. Wow. Now there’s a guy who doesn’t understand the horrific impact of rape and yet is someone who actually has the ability to do something about it. But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to write about the inspiring event that took place a couple months ago, that has still left an impact on me, called Light Up the Night.

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Photo credit: Julia View

Supporters and survivors gathered at the University campus in front of Main Hall, the brick building and clock tower so famous in Missoula. People who attended the rally held up flashlights in support, and flickers of blue string-lights dotted  the crowed. I listened as resilient speakers’ voices echoed across the campus and reverberated against the brick buildings of the University of Montana. One  woman who spoke was a victim of abuse since the age of five up until she was in her twenties. She tentatively shared with the crowd that she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and had an episode before coming to speak tonight. (PTSD is scarily common: 81% of women survivors report short-term or long-term symptoms of PTSD.) She addressed fellow survivors by saying, in order to heal, “kiss those scars.”

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Graph credit:

After the gathering, I hiked up the M, a trail that zig-zags up a hillside overlooking the university campus and city of Missoula. It was dark and I thought about how lucky I am to be an ally of survivors of sexual violence, and not be on the other side, plagued by trauma that would leave me scared to go out, alone, on a dark trail. The lights were on at the football stadium and they blanketed the dark night in florescent white, leaving everything else in the city in shadow. I thought about just how horrifically fitting that was: How football was in the spotlight while everything else was left in shadow. The football team that had created a national outcry with the gang rape their teammates had committed, had things back to life as usual, practicing in the glow of stadium lights, while survivors tried to shed their own small light just a few blocks away at the rally.

As long as society permits a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality, then women will be blamed for their own rape and will remain in the shadow of the football stadium lights. As long as our society permits sexual predatory behaviors, then sexual violence won’t go away. But we have already made huge steps, as a society, towards change. Because we are going forward and calling out the problem of sexual violence and saying “no more.” We are rallying, we are speaking, we are blogging, we are having conversations at parties, and we are laying the frame-work for valuing the whole girl and woman, (as well as valuing the whole boy and man) instead of just valuing those stereotypical gender binaries of football player and cheerleader. We are revolutionizing this dark and scary place we call our world and lighting up the night, one little flashlight at a time.

I would like to leave you with one of the poems that was read at the Light Up the Night Rally, written and presented by Mariah McGarvey:


I reach for her hand; she pulls away.

I don’t know how to help her.

I hurt every time I see her

Flinch away from strangers.


From MEN.

I know.


Yes, I know, she didn’t have to tell me.

She tries to keep your secret,

but I’ve known her far too long

for her to ever hide it.


I wasn’t at that party.

I wasn’t there for her.

But you knew that, didn’t you?

And so you followed after.


You shadowed her that night.

Stalked her, one might say.

And when that moment came?

She couldn’t run away.


We all know the symptoms.

We’ve all watched the news.

And I wish I could pin down

exactly what drug you used.


Now they’re talking ’bout her hemline,

but you and I know better.

It wasn’t about the sex,

it’s all about the power.


You think you’re safe.

You know she won’t speak out.

But you’ve missed one tiny detail:

I, too, have a mouth.


I know about that party,

and I will scream it out.

It’s your fault, not hers:

she was completely passed out.


So let me just say,

for those who still don’t get it:

she would not, could not, DID NOT

ask for it.


-Mariah McGarvey, 2015.




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