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Marchers Unite Against Sexual Violence

December 15, 2017

 

The night belongs to men, but women are demanding it, a feminist writer said Saturday night at a rally protesting sexual violence against women.

 

“We, women, are supposed to be afraid of the night,” the writer, Andrea Dworkin, said. “A woman who transgresses the night is an outlaw. A decent woman does not go out at night.”

 

And 180 people, mostly women, marched for change through downtown Norfolk carrying candles and flashlights, trying to reclaim the night as their own.

 

“Come on, women, let’s unite. Come on, women. Take back the night,” they chanted as they left Dunmore Docks for their destination at Old Dominion University two hours away.

 

They chanted in unison with strong voices, protesting rape, woman-beating, and sexual harassment of women on the job, on the street, and at school.

 

The darkness of the night wrapped a cocoon around them as they marched – the Navy wives, students, mothers, and working women.

 

“It’s a little scary,” a 30-year-old student said. “Women in this area are reluctant to get involved in things like this. It’s like standing up and being counted.”

 

She said she was there because she thought she had to be.

 

“I was raped 11 years ago,” she said. “I was in Hawaii – raped in paradise. I made a date with a guy I knew slightly. He seemed real nice.

 

“We got into his car. He was driving kind of aimlessly. He said he had to urinate and drove up a dirt road to a cemetery.

 

“He grabbed me, dragged me out of the car, and raped me,” she said, softly.

 

“No, I never prosecuted. Eleven years ago, there was no TRIS (Tidewater Rape Information Services) or other organization. I had a friend. I called her. She gave me empathy and comfort.

 

“I haven’t talked about this in years. I don’t think I could outside of this context (the march),” she said, reaching out for the comfort of a friend’s hand.

 

A woman in front of her wore a sign: “Keep Rapists Off the Streets – Not Women.”

 

“I feel ambivalent because I think we’re making a strong statement, and I’m not sure if anyone is hearing the anger and frustration that goes along with feeling we’re victims,” a 32-year-old woman said, referring to some men in houses along Mowbray Arch, who she thought were jeering at the marchers.

 

“I feel angry, very angry,” she said. “I feel women have the right to be out at night.

 

“I’ve been raped. I was 20. For 10 years, I didn’t tell anyone what happened. I didn’t even know what to call it.”

 

The rape happened at a party, she said. The man dragged her into a room. “I didn’t have enough self-respect to scream,” she said.

 

The women raised their fists and shouted, “No more suffering, no more silence. Women united will stop the violence.”

 

A school librarian in her 30s said she was attacked outside her Norfolk apartment building twice in two weeks last May.

 

She called the police, and one of the men was found and arrested. She said the judge gave him 30 days or a $50 fine. She was surprised the court gave him that much.

 

“Join together, free our lives, we will not be victimized,” the marchers chanted.

 

“My father battered my mother before they were divorced,” said a 20-year-old saleswoman from Virginia Beach.

 

“I don’t want to end up like that,” she said. “I don’t want to go to court and be told ‘that’s between you and your husband.’ ”

 

Her friend, a 26-year-old store manager, chimed in:

 

“I was battered when I was married – frequently and badly. It took me two years to get out of it. The police turned the other way. It would take them two hours to show up because it was a domestic quarrel

 

“The only way I could leave him was to leave the state.”

 

The harassment starts early in your life, the women said.

 

“When I was a teenager, I took it as a compliment to get whistled at,” said a 26-year-old ODU student. “Now, I want to tell them to f--- off.

 

“I ignore them when that happens but, later, I wish I’d said something because they don’t have the right to talk to me like that.”

 

“Yes means yes, no means no. However we dress, wherever we go,” the marchers shouted into the darkness.”

 

“So many women come up to me who have been raped on the base,” a Navy chaplain said. “I came to show my support.”

 

Then, she told me her own story. At age 14, she was attacked by a 24-year-old acquaintance in his sister’s house. She never told anyone because she was afraid she would be told that she “did something to make him do that to you.”

 

There was other hurt, too. Her father beat her mother.

 

People along the route peered out through their living room drapes or came out on porches or street-corners to watch.

 

“I don’t see where that’s (a march) going to do any good,” a 68-year-old merchant said.

 

Ralph Hood, a 37-year-old retired Navy man, disagreed:

 

“I’m for it. It’s about time someone united. The city needs it.”

 

A 30-year-old telephone operator from Portsmouth said, “I like this. That’s right. We won’t take it.”

 

Outside Old Dominion University’s Webb Center, where speeches and a rally followed the march, one protester from Virginia Beach said, “I’m 13. . . . God didn’t make us to be victimized.”

 

At 12:30 a.m., an hour after the march and rally ended, police in Virginia Beach responded to report of a rape.

This piece was first published by The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, on October 6, 1980.

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© 2017 by Cynthia Adina Kirkwood