Virginia colleges put on first-ever Take Back the Net during the coronavirus outbreak

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Colleges from across the commonwealth along with the Virginia Campus Task Force have come together to put on the first virtual Take Back the Night event — Take Back the Net.

At this event 20 survivors who have already signed up to be a speaker will talk during the Zoom webinar. Vandervelde said they have taken steps to make this space as inclusive as possible, including adding closed captioning to students who are deaf or hard of hearing can participate.

Dana Vandervelde, Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Advocate at Virginia Commonwealth University, said they have taken as many precautions as possible to make sure this goes well, including some to prevent Zoom bombing.

“While the whole world is kind of in disarray right now, and this is a really hard time for a people who have experienced trauma or who are still in the midst of going through trauma, this can be a really important tool for their healing or to express themselves in a safe as possible kind of way,” she said.

Vandervelde said the first Take Back the Night took place in 1977. She said typically these are the biggest events of the year they put on for sexual assault awareness.

“It’s a night that can look different depending on what school you’re at, but at VCU, we do a call out for survivors of sexual assault or people who have been close to survivors of sexual assault to speak in front of a crowd about their experience,” she said. “So that can look like talking about the trauma they went through but also we encourage student to talk about how they’ve been resilient.”

Plans for this year’s were disrupted when the coronavirus outbreak hit, closing down universities and discouraging large gatherings. However, Vandervelde said they didn’t want to cancel the event because of how important it is to survivors.

“This was an opportunity to join with universities and still give this space to survivors,” she said. “For a lot of people they look forward to this every year because it is the one space they feel they can share their story and they’re not met with people trying to make them feel better, they’re not met with people trying to belittle their experience, just a whole space they can completely own.”

She said at least 10 colleges came together to work on this project, including VCU, the University of Richmond, the College of William and Mary and the University of Virginia.

“I think it’s really interesting because everyone does take back the night a little differently so it’s been really cool … for my first take back the night I’m in charge of to be this huge collaboration because I’ve learned so much,” she said.

“It’s been rewarding to work with so many schools and so many really amazing and really really creative professionals to get this up and going.”

Vandervelde said she hopes the event attracts people who would be too afraid to attend live version and encourages them to come to future sexual assault prevention and awareness programing.

“I really hope this is an event we can potentially continue in the future because it was so successful,” she said.

You can click here to join them tonight at 7 p.m. They do ask you keep in mind this is a confidential space and to be respectful.

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