By Shelby Miller ’14, Features Editor
The Take Back the Night Vigil gives victims of sexual violence, specifically women, a way to speak out and share their experiences. The vigil, which is in its 14th consecutive year at Saint Joseph’s University, is a chance for students to stand up for themselves and show others that they will not allow their particular experience with sexual violence to define them.
Raquel Kennedy Bergen, Ph.D., professor of sociology and an adviser to Rape Education Prevention Program (REPP) at Saint Joseph’s University, spoke about the tradition of the vigil.
“[The] significance of it is raising awareness about violence in society and giving survivors a safe place where they can share their stories, and for many it is the first time doing so,” Bergen said. “Some speak year after year. Some will come every year, and their senior year share their story.”
The vigil shows how sexual violence is not always a random act, and in fact, can commonly occur in a relationship between two people who know each other.
Bill Mitchell’s daughter, Kristin Mitchell, ’05, was murdered by her boyfriend in her apartment three weeks after her graduation. Mitchell has spoken at a few vigils in recent years to raise awareness about the dangers of abusive dating relationships.
In the times that Mitchell has spoken at the Take Back the Night Vigil, the weight of his speech was ultimately focused on increasing people’s knowledge and understanding of dating violence.
In terms of intimate partner violence, the breadth of a person’s education and awareness can mean the difference between life and death.
“It’s important from the standpoint that the tragedy that happened to my daughter very possibly may never had happened had she had more information about the warning signs of dating violence,” said Mitchell.
Kristin Mitchell was stabbed to death in her apartment while trying to break up with her boyfriend of four months on June 3, 2005. They had met during her last semester at St. Joe’s, at their place of work.
Mitchell stated, “For people in college [or] before their lives are complete, they or some friend of theirs will be in a situation like this, but at least they’ll have a better chance of recognizing it and stepping in.”
“My daughter had several friends who could see that her relationship with this guy was unhealthy,” he continued. “They noticed the manipulative behavior. For instance, he tried to isolate her from her friends and family … But he was not physically abusive at all.”
Oftentimes people believe that patterns of abuse—both sexual and physical—are present in an intimate relationship prior to escalating into a dangerously violent situation. But Mitchell states that is not always true.
Manipulation in intimate relationships is indicative of one partner’s desperation for total power and control over their partner. And it is when that control is challenged or taken away that violent situations can escalate.
When dealing with an extremely controlling intimate partner, the most dangerous time for their counterpart is during a break up.
“[Break up with your partner] in a public place with a lot of people—or send a text or a phone call, especially when there’s a history of violence,” Bergen advised.
As stated on the Kristin Mitchell Foundation website, the Bureau of Justice reported that women ages 16 to 24 experience the highest rate of dating violence—almost three times the national average.
Mitchell said, “What happened to my daughter will never be understandable, but you can see [what happens] when a very controlling person is told their control is over and how that person can snap … [My daughter] was trying to get away from that situation.”
“The good news in all this is that this is what she would want under the circumstances—she would want people to learn from this and she would want more people to pay attention to this, “ said Mitchell. “And the other part of it is that I have no doubt that our family will be reunited at some point in the future—it’s just a matter of waiting a while. So it’s not like goodbye forever, there’s no doubt about that.”