Since 1976, the last Thursday in April has seen various events take place in different countries across the globe to support the Take Back the Night Foundation’s Ten Points of Light campaign against sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence. This year marked the first in which a European group has taken part in Ten Points of Light, and it was here in St Andrews that the Feminist Society held the event ’Shatter the Silence’ as a part of this campaign. I think it’s fair to say that there is always room for discussion about sexual violence, especially amongst young people and at a University, and so I was incredibly excited on seeing that this event would incorporate poetry, comedy and music to explore such an important topic.
The event was held at the Byre Theatre and was, unfortunately, and I suspect through no fault of the organisers, under-attended. Perhaps it was a side effect of Revision Week, or perhaps (I hope this is not the case, but fear it might be) the stigma surrounding the word ‘Feminist’ and what it entails still scares some people enough to cause them to avoid an event. The lack of a full house was not a hindrance, as the topics being discussed still had the same resonance, and their importance impacted those who were there. Taylor Hendrickson (FemSoc) opened the night with an informative speech, drawing attention to the reason for the name of the event, the focus being on shattering the silence around the ‘crime of silence’ that is sexual violence. Anonymous letters and poems from victims/survivors were then read out by members of the Feminist Society, and it was powerful to hear those words read aloud and the simplicity of it was very effective.
However, I do think some sentiments were lost due to a rushed delivery, perhaps it would have helped if pieces had been learnt by heart so there was more focus on the words themselves. Unfortunately, a technical glitch early on threw the evening slightly off, as the audience were left waiting and uninformed for a bit too long, and some of the readings were not given the attention they deserved as no one really knew what was going on. Having said that, the night recovered well. Lucy Coatman’s performance of ‘Ich Gehör Nur Mir’ (‘I Belong to Me’) whilst enjoyable and engaging, could have done with a bit more introduction in terms of its relevance to the night (it was in fact relevant, but more emphasis could have been put on this). The definite high points came in the form of the external speakers. Eileen Maitland from Rape Crisis Scotland’s talk was incredibly informative, focusing on the statistics around sexual violence in Scotland, as well the attitude problems facing survivors/victims. She also talked about the issues posed by corroboration and forensics in the investigation of incidents, highlighting the disparity between those reported and those actually ending with a conviction, which are staggering and saddening. Why aren’t there more convictions? Why is it so difficult for women to get the care they need after a horrific attack? And for goodness’ sake, why are women still being asked why they didn’t ‘fight back’? Rape Crisis Scotland seems to be trying to tackle the problems raised in these questions and their presence at this event was very important and appreciated.
St Andrews Acapella group The Accidentals performed a beautifully haunting rendition of Lady Gaga’s ‘Til it Happens to You’, a song written for the documentary film The Hunting Ground, which investigates campus rape in the US. The piece was both despairing and uplifting. The music was interspersed with spoken word, delivered beautifully and with incredible poignancy. It was the sense of solidarity that grew as the singers moved from scattered and on the floor, to grouped together, standing tall and side by side that was so truly moving. I think I can safely say the audience were either in tears, or very close to – myself included. After a short interval, Maddie Inskeep was tasked with energising the audience with a comedy set, and did so valiantly with recognition to the fact that it was perhaps strange to have comedy in an event like this, ploughing through nonetheless. David Thompson from White Ribbon Scotland was possibly my favourite speaker of the night. White Ribbon Scotland is an organization for men to join the fight against sexual violence against women, something that the past (and a few present) Take Back the Night Campaigns do not do. He highlighted that this fight was not just for women, as the main victims/survivors of sexual violence, but for men as well as the perpetrators of it. As David keenly pointed out, you can make as many law changes as you want, but until attitudes change, crimes will continue to happen.
It was at this point in the evening that I realised the reason the under-attendance was so bothering at this event specifically: there are a lot of people, I suspect, in our town whose attitudes need to change, and are dangerously close to holding dangerous attitudes. The night ended with a short talk from a representative of Got Consent, who spoke about not being a bystander to sexual violence. To close, there was a candlelit-turn-glow-stick-lit vigil in honour of the cause accompanied by music and quotes from survivors/victims, a lovely gesture and end to the evening. For me I think, the night was summarised by the final Maya Angelou quote that lingered on the screen as we walked out the Byre: “You may tread me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise.” A commendable effort for an important and engaging event.