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Letter from the Editor

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Making a brave noise in the night

They marched across campus, a young woman banging away on an upturned kitchen pot in the lead. CLANG CLANG CLANG... her short pony tail bobs in time.

Others blast away on whistles - ZWEETZWEET - or chant again and again: "What do we want? SAFE STREETS! When do we want it? NOW!!"

There is no trouble finding this group. Can hear them from the parking lot half way across the Buena Vista University campus. The stars are out tonight, and the cool breeze feels good on the face. You can almost close your eyes and follow the sound.

I fall into step (no one asks why) with what one would later that night term "a sisterhood." They are loud and brave and agitating - and I like them right away.

CLANG! ZWEET! NOW!! It's almost as if they want to drive the very blackness out of the star-filled night with sheer volume of screechy spirit.

I believe they call it Take Back the Night. The group was almost all college women, about 20 of them. No male students. Maybe the guys didn't get the memo.

So they came to the doors and the windows, one or two at a time outlined in the yellow light as the women marched by to each residence hall - curious to see what all this racket is about. They stood and watched, neither volunteering their support, nor jeering the effort. What they silently thought of it, only they know.

I wonder, if they have daughters someday, if those thoughts will evolve somewhat. Life has a habit of doing that for you.

See those big red X's outside some of the dorms - they put them in places they believe sexual assaults have occurred. Here? Too close to home. The first impulse is to want to erase them, as if wishing hard enough would make that red tape go away, and more importantly, make the reasons for those marks never have happened.

From time to time, there are rallies and protests and marches - a few committed people standing up for the rest who don't bother, or aren't ready to, or just plain can't. My lot is to take photographs of such events; gotta admire those who put themselves out there for their beliefs. Mostly agree with them in a vague, offhand sort of way.

This one got to be a bit different when the crowd veered off the road and into the damp grass of the pitch black Circle Park. Even before they explained, most of those present got it.

It was the same spot where a student from the university had not long ago reported that she had been sexually assaulted by an unknown man she was walking with. The case is unsolved.

Maybe that explains the chill in the air, something more than the October breeze off the lake water.

They lit three candles - just enough light to see the faces across the circle. There was reading of poignant essays and quotes, which was appropriate and nice, but the real poetry wasn't in the fancy words, but in the simple fact that they were out there.

After, when they were just talking like themselves, the kind of nonflowery unliterary talk like real people talk, it got more real. They spoke about the BVU woman who reported the sexual assault to police, and others who do the same.

They spoke of the courage it takes - it can be nearly like being raped a second time - to come forward. To tell the story, to not be believed, to wait and wonder if a man is going to be caught, to face a trial that will make their ordeal public, knowing all the while that they may have no chance to win.

Her word against his.

CLANG. ZWEET. NOW! I think they have had enough.

Huddled there in their sweatshirts in a dark park, in the glow of a few candles, some of them share, matter-of-factly, that they, too, have experienced sexual violence. They don't sound like victims so much, though, tonight. Just sound determined.

As the woman next to me reveals herself, the two on the other side of the circle embrace warmly, and a woman in a stocking hat herds a youngster back towards the stroller. Little scenes of life going on, in the dark.

They sound like they are indeed out to take back the night. To grab a handful of stars and perhaps put them into that noisy saucepan the girl is beating on - and to throw back the fear.

A deadline calls - I had to part way with the marchers and leave them there in the dim circle of candlelight. As a father, I realize, I should have thanked them for what they were out there doing. Demanding safe streets. I'm really not sure why that should only be a sisterhood's job. Don't we all have sisters and mothers and nieces and friends who deserve not to be scared? And it isn't just the streets, or the bars - most of the sexual abuse reports I've heard in northwest Iowa happen right in the home. Maybe there's enough night to go around, for all of us to take a little back.

The sounds are going to be echoing my head for a while.

CLANG CLANG CLANG! ZWEETZWEET! What do we want? SAFE STREETS! When do we want it? NOW!

Take good care of each other out there, people.

And if nobody out there wants to listen, don't be afraid to bang on a pot, now and then.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Storm Lake Pilot-Tribune. Reach him at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com