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To push the campus communities and society as a whole to get past its squeamish hang-ups in confronting physical and sexual violence, students of Concordia and Dominican universities organized a march Monday calling attention to these taboo topics. Billed as part of the international Take Back the Night campaign, students and other participants marched between the two campuses and listened to speeches on the subjects of violence and sexual assault, particularly against women.

“They’re hard conversations to have, but were doing that in order for there to be justice,” said Christina Perez, an associate professor of sociology at Dominican University.

Perez helped students on her campus coordinate with counterparts at Concordia. The march marks the first time the neighboring colleges have partnered on such an event, and it has been well more than a decade, said Perez, since she can recall similar vigils at Dominican. In addition to teaching, Perez is also the director of the school’s Women and Gender Studies program.

“Unfortunately, it’s 2010 and a tremendous amount of women still experience violence and sexual abuse,” Perez said.

The coordinated march was initiated by students at Concordia University, specifically members within Striving to Overcome Prejudice, or STOP, a large student-group on campus. Participants met at about 4 p.m. Monday at Dominican where they heard from the college’s president, Donna Carroll. Walking along sidewalks to Concordia’s campus triangle, Take Back the Night participants listened to John Johnson, who is the president of that university.

The featured speaker for the event, though, was Angela Rose.

At the age of 17, Rose was held at knifepoint and sexually assaulted. Today, she is the founder and executive director of a Chicago advocacy group, Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment, or PAVE.

With help from professors and other student groups at Concordia, Dennsa Mohamed, president of the Black Student Union and member of STOP, said it took almost six months to organize the rally. Around campus, students sometimes trade rumors of alleged assaults, said Mohamed, but by and large the issue of sexual violence is seen as a problem for larger schools. He’s hopeful that by participating in the march students will be more aware of what constitutes an assault, and where to seek help.

“It’s becoming more and more prevalent on college campuses,” Mohamed said. “We need to familiarize ourselves with this.”

The number of sexual assaults reported annually at Concordia and Dominican is low. Dating back to 2004, the security department at Dominican has not recorded a single incident. At Concordia, according to campus records dating back to 2006, there has been one incident of rape and one incident of forced sodomy. It was not immediately clear from the school’s records whether those were separate incidents.

Greg Weiss, interim chief of the River Forest Police Department, said the community has seen a total of 13 sexual assault reports since April 2005. Of those, Weiss could not say how many resulted in criminal charges being filed or whether anyone was prosecuted. At least three of those reports, he said, had ties to either Concordia or Dominican.

“I would say a couple times a year we will investigate an incident of this, and not all of them result in prosecution,” Weiss said of sexual assault cases in River Forest. “It’s enough to be concerned about, but it’s not excessive.”

The police department also participated in Take Back the Night, and recently held a free self-defense class for women on the Concordia campus.

Sonia Ayala, a junior at Dominican and co-president of the student-group Domestic Abuse Stops Here, said this was her first Take Back the Night march.

“It just creates a great amount of awareness,” Ayala said. “This topic isn’t really talked about. I think it just brings people out to talk about it and to unite.”

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