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Residents march to fight assault

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DeKALB — Residents gathered to show support for survivors of sexual assault and make a stand for a safer community through a Take Back the Night rally hosted by Safe Passage, a local domestic violence and sexual assault shelter.

Take Back the Night is an ongoing international series of rallies and marches intended to support victims of sexual assault, according to the Take Back the Night Foundation’s website. It began in the 1960s when female students on college campuses marched to protest the danger they felt walking unaccompanied at night in their communities. Since then, universities and cities have held their own annual marches throughout April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

Lynnea Erickson Laskowski, communication and prevention services director of Safe Passage, said Take Back the Night puts awareness at the forefront of the community’s mind.

“This is our annual rally reclaiming the fact that we all deserve to be safe from sexual violence — that no matter where we are, what time of day, whatever we’re doing, we deserve to be safe,” Erickson Laskowski said. “We’re reclaiming the streets and reclaiming the night.”

The rally began at 6 p.m. at the Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St. Demonstrators held signs with messages such as “Hands Off,” “Cats Against Catcalling” and “Consent is Sexy.” They then marched up and down First and Second Streets, held a brief demonstration below the DeKalb mural on Lincoln Highway in Memorial Park and ended back at the theatre.

Residents march to fight assault

Andrea Jackson, Safe Passage Assistant Residential Coordinator, (right) holds a Take Back the Night sign and marches Tuesday evening alongside members of the DeKalb community during a protest hosted by Safe Passage.

Attendees spoke on their reasons for demonstrating.

Dawn Eierman, 62, of DeKalb, said she wants to see change that can manifest for a safer environment for her young granddaughters. She said coming to terms with her own assault at 14, and then confronting her abuser recently, has helped her put things into perspective.

“There’s no reason for women or men to be sexually abused,” Eierman said. “This is our temple; this is where we live. If more people get involved, we could get DeKalb right.”

Nikki Rice, 36, of DeKalb, said she translated her own experiences into positive output by volunteering for Safe Passage over the last few months.

Take Back the Night allows survivors to share in a network of support, she said.

“This is a good time for everyone to come together and feel comfortable sharing their stories,” Rice said. “We want everyone to know they deserve to be believed and listened to.”

Rep. Jeff Keicher of the 70th district said he marched in the demonstration to lend support and hopes to promote further legislation in the Illinois General Assembly supporting survivor advocacy.

Keicher sponsored the recent passage of HB 2135, a bill amending the Criminal Code of 2012 by eliminating the statute of limitations for prosecution of sexual assault or aggravated sexual abuse. He said passing the bill April 4 marked a victory on behalf of sexual assault survivors in Illinois.

Keicher said he also helped prevent HB 217 from passing, which would have created the Criminal History in College Applications Act.

The act would have prevented public universities or community colleges from inquiring about applicants’ criminal histories or rescinding an application due to criminal history at any time during the admissions process, unless required by federal law.

Keicher said the bill would have allowed sex offenders admittance to college campuses without any recourse or regard for safety.

“Sexual violence has been one of [the] things I’ve been focused on [in the Illinois General Assembly],” Keicher said. “I specifically asked to be on the Human Services and Mental Health Committees in Springfield. I had a cousin directly impacted by [abuse and] saw the impact in her life, so part of my mission as a representative [is] to make sure sexual violence and assault has a bright light shone on it.”

Residents march to fight assault

Residents and students gather and march Tuesday in downtown DeKalb to raise awareness for sexual assault survivors.

Mary Ellen Schaid, executive director of Safe Passage, thanked attendees for coming out and demonstrating and encouraged them to take further action whenever and wherever they can.

“All we have to do is say ‘We believe you, and you can get help,’” Schaid said. “We can be the difference.”