Concord’s first ‘Take Back the Night’ event draws supportive crowd

  • From left, Scott Moore, Jennifer Pierson, Paula Wall and Eli Kuti attend the Take Back the Night event in Concord on Thursday evening. MICHAEL PEZONE photos / Monitor staff

  • Pins that read, “I Ask For Consent” sit in a pile at the Take Back the Night event in downtown Concord on Thursday.

  • Jennifer Pierson (right) speaks alongside Eli Kuti at the Take Back the Night event in downtown Concord on Thursday evening. MICHAEL PEZONE

Monitor staff
Published: 4/4/2019 8:12:17 PM

Don’t walk alone at night. Don’t leave home without a cell phone. And don’t expect to stay safe if you’re wearing leggings.

It’s been decades since Take Back the Night rallies first started popping up in communities. But Dalia Vidunas, executive director of the Equality Health Center, said the conversation around what causes sexual violence, including sexual and domestic assault and dating violence, hasn’t changed that much.

If society wants it to change, then efforts have to be more inclusive and more focused on supporting, not blaming, victims, Vidunas told a small crowd in front of the State House, who had gathered Thursday for perhaps the first Concord Take Back the Night. It was coordinated between the Equality Health Center and the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire.

“We are told that violence against us is absolutely inevitable and we have to prepare for it,” she said. “There’s no accountability for the perpetrator because the victim was asking for it.”

Jennifer Pierson, program director for the Crisis Center, said interest in the event has been revived due to the #MeToo movement.

“Each time a survivor is able to tell their story because they feel supported, another survivor gains that courage to tell their story too,” she said.

According to the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence’s website, one in four women in the state has been sexually assaulted. About 41 percent of assaults are reported from women under the age of 18; 83 percent of assaults occur before the age of 25.

The problem also affects men: In a survey of 1,000 New Hampshire men conducted by the Coalition, one in 20 in the Granite State have been sexually assaulted, with two-thirds of the assaults occurring before the survivor’s 18th birthday.

Those statistics are one of the reasons why getting men involved in the conversation is a critical part of the movement to end sexual assault, said Brian Harlow, who is a survivor himself. In addition to teaching boys to respect themselves and others, he said it is important to teach them how to process their trauma if they have been assaulted.

“We have to teach boys that it’s okay to be sad. ... My career, my marriage, my health, my life, it was all going through my fingers like said,” Harlow said about the lingering affects of his assault.

Because sexual assault is a vastly underreported crime, crime statistics can only tell so much of the story. In 2017, the Monitor found the conviction rate on charges of aggravated felonious sexual assault in New Hampshire has remained largely steady, between 17 and 21 percent, with the greatest percentage reported in 2014.

From 2012 to 2013, the conviction rate on charges of felonious sexual assault increased from 18 to 25 percent, and has remained just shy of that since. Prosecutors have had greater success with misdemeanor sexual assault charges. The conviction rate jumped in years 2014 and 2015 to 33 and 32 percent, respectively, from 21 percent in 2013.

(Staff writer Alyssa Dandrea contributed to this report. Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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