Take Back the Night shines light on abuse

Survivors, victims’ families to march

Theresa McRae of Toledo says an ex-boyfriend abused her, and she plans on participating in today’s Take Back the Night rally.
Theresa McRae of Toledo says an ex-boyfriend abused her, and she plans on participating in today’s Take Back the Night rally.

Theresa McRae will not be silenced.

The 28-year-old Toledo resident months ago left a boyfriend who she said physically and verbally abused her. In January, she began going to group sessions at Project Genesis, a local program that supports domestic violence victims, and learned to spot the relationship “red flags” that can signal problems.

She plans to attend today’s Take Back the Night, a rally and march aimed against violence against women.

“I’m against domestic violence. I don’t think that’s something that anybody should tolerate,” Ms. McRae said. “More people need to be aware.”

Toledo’s 19th annual Take Back the Night event will start at 6 p.m. today with a resource fair, which includes area agencies that provide support to victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Visual reminders of violence also will be on display. The Silent Witness Project features the silhouettes representing area women killed, and the Clothesline Project showcases shirts created by survivors and victims’ families.

The program begins at 7 p.m. A community rally will include speakers and music, and a women’s march, a chance for survivors to share stories, and a men’s program also are scheduled.

The event will be at the United Auto Workers Local 12 hall, 2300 Ashland Ave. Organizers expect several hundred people to attend.

Sharon Barnes, an associate professor at the University of Toledo and a member of the organizing group, said Take Back the Night raises awareness and is also “a healing event for the survivors.” She’s been involved in the effort since the first local event.

“Our commitment on this is longstanding. We are going to be here until the violence stops,” she said.

At last year’s Take Back the Night, the message shared was one of solidarity. Survivors were told: “We believe you,” “You are not alone,” and “It’s not your fault,” Ms. Barnes said.

“It’s sad that in the 21st century, victims are still blamed,” she said.

Ms. Barnes said organizers try to make contact with families of women recently killed by an abuser. Toledo has had several such cases in the last few weeks, including the March 24 killing of Kaitlin Gerber, 20, by Jashua Perz.

But Ms. Barnes said the group avoids taking a recent tragedy and turning it into an “opportunistic” political point.

Pat Rizzi of Swanton helps with Take Back the Night because her 26-year-old daughter, Michelle Rizzi Salerno, was murdered by her estranged husband. Her daughter disappeared in 2000, and her remains were found nearly a year later in a Bowling Green State University construction landfill.

She’s frustrated by continued attacks against women despite marches and other activities aimed at stopping it. Still, she and others press on with the message that “everyone can do something” to prevent domestic violence.

“When Michelle disappeared, I didn’t know any of this stuff existed,” Mrs. Rizzi said. “I didn’t realize that the community has this many resources.”

The retired nurse is upset by some responses to domestic violence. She said it’s wrong to characterize abusers as “lunatics” when they engage in stalking and other premeditated acts.

“They will say, ‘I wonder why he snapped?’ ” she said. “He did not snap. They knew what they were doing. It just seems like it is trying to make excuses.”

She called for a greater community understanding and for everyone — including parents and men specifically — to speak out.

“I always used to believe all the myths of domestic violence — that if Michelle would just leave him, then everything would be OK. Well, that’s one of the biggest myths. I believed things that weren’t true,” she said. “When you believe those things, it can contribute to the problem instead of helping the problem.”

Take Back the Night can trigger emotions for participants, so trained advocates will be available to talk to participants. Lauren Merrell, a senior social-work major at the University of Toledo, will sport a yellow armband to designate her as someone to turn.

When Ms. Merrell attended the event last year for the first time, she was amazed at how many people attended.

“I saw so many of my friends there that I had never known were survivors. It really opened my eyes to what a pandemic it was,” she said.

Ms. McRae said her awareness of domestic violence grew after she began attending group sessions with other survivors.

“I was listening to other people’s stories. ... It seems like you’re all alone,” she said. “Now I’m starting to learn a whole new world.”

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065.