Two events focused on Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Take Back the Night and Walk a Mile in her Shoes, will be taking place this week. Both are annual events; Take Back the Night is presented by the AS ROP Women’s Center, and Walk a Mile in her Shoes is put on by Western Men Against Violence.
Take Back the Night begins with a rally at 7 p.m. April 16 in the PAC Concert Hall. Margarita Alcantara, an activist and social organizer, will be the keynote speaker. The march, which begins at 9 p.m., will wind its way through the dorms and then to downtown Bellingham. The march is only for people who identify as women, but the rally before and candlelight vigil after the march are open to all.
According to Kime McClintock, co-coordinator of the AS ROP Women’s Center, Take Back the Night is an international event that seeks to make public spaces safer for women.
“It’s an opportunity to see positive community coming together,” she said.
The march is an opportunity to support other female-identified members of the community and reclaim public spaces, Jenny Henley, assistant coordinator of the Women’s Center said. Though she has attended several marches and protests, none have paralleled her experiences at Take Back the Night.
“It’s a social attitude march,” Henley said. “We want to demand the respect of women and lift each other up.”
In Bellingham, the march is for women-identified people only. Some communities choose to open the march up to everyone and others don’t, Devlin O’Donnell, coordinator of Crime and Sexual Assault Support Services (CASAS) said. The reason behind this community’s female-identified only march is that the march is more empowering if women can do it alone, O’Donnell said.
“They [the Women’s Center] wanted it to be more of an empowering walk alone,” she said.  “Not that they don’t appreciate the support of the men [who] usually come at the end there to rally around.”
According to McClintock, there needs to be a space that is just for women.
“We want to create real, sustainable change in the long term where public places are safe,” she said. “For that change to take place, it has to be autonomous.”
Every year, the march is escorted by the police. This is something that Henley and McClintock don’t necessarily agree with, but it is city protocol to have police escorts. Furthermore, it is important that participants are safe, they said.
“You don’t want the safety of anyone marching to be compromised,” Henley said. With that being said, both McClintock and Henley emphasized that the march is peaceful, high-energy and very expressive.
“Everyone marches in their own way…people can experience it the way they need to,” McClintock said.
“The feel of the march is always very powerful but proactive and peaceful,” O’Donnell said.
When asked how safe she believes the streets of Bellingham are, O’Donnell said that Bellingham is generally as safe as any other town, and that the majority of sexual assaults happen in the home and by people known to the survivor. This lends an extended meaning to Take Back the Night.
“It’s more about taking back the streets,” she said. “It’s about feeling safe everywhere—in  your homes, in your relationships, in your dorms and also walking home by yourself.”
The evening before Take Back the Night, Women’s Empowerment and Violence Education (WEAVE) will host the Night of Testimony, an opportunity for survivors of violence and allies to reflect and support each other. Survivors and allies are welcomed to share their experiences and thoughts with others. This event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m., April 15 in Miller Hall 160.
For male-identified people who wish to participate in a march of their own, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes is the event for them. The main goal of the event is to encourage men to think about issues such as rape and domestic violence and to raise awareness about those issues, said Joshua O’Donnell, coordinator of Western Men Against Violence (WMAV).
Walk a Mile in her Shoes takes place two days after Take Back the Night, with registration beginning at 11 a.m. in Red Square. After a few speakers, the marchers will leave from Red Square at noon and walk to Boundary Bay, where a reception will be held. The march is only for male-identified people but the reception is for everyone.
“With the issue of rape and domestic violence, it’s really hard to get men involved in just talking about it,” he said. “The main goal is really to create an event where we can begin getting in touch with more men in our community and at the same time doing something very tangible, like raising money.”
All proceeds from the event will go to Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (DVSAS), a local organization.  It is very much a community-supported service, Joshua O’Donnell said.
“DVSAS relies a lot on government grants but even more so on just fundraisers that they do throughout the community,” he said. “The organization wouldn’t be in existence…if the community didn’t raise money to try to support it or have members volunteering.”
Joshua O’Donnell hopes that the march will create a comfortable space in which men can discuss gender, relationships and issues of violence. During the march, men often talk about why they chose to don a pair of heels and join in the first place, he said.
“Some do it for the fundraising aspect, the fact that it’s a funny event that you can end at Boundary Bay with,” he said. “But then there are a lot of men too that are in the march because they want to support the women in their own lives.”
Heels in a variety of sizes will be provided.