Critiques and Opposition
Opposition to anti-rape movements and indifference to coeds' [read: women's] safety, in general, was present before the formation of WAR or Take Back the Night marches. In 1969/1970, the issues of the day were poor or no lighting and lack of bus accessibility. Female students argued that sometimes it was unavoidable for them to walk home in the dark due to needing to study at the Libraries. Other Students complained about how they were being turned away from the university bus late at night only because they did not have a bus pass. Students demanded better lighting, more bus routes around campus, and more police to increase safety. These demands were often dismissed as unnecessary or too costly. February 24, 1970 Letters to the Editor really demonstrate the various ways people engaged with these demands. Judy Pollard invokes their letter "Common Pastimes" the value of the "virginity of some of its [The Ohio State University's] coeds" as a reason to allow students to board the buses even without a bus pass. Others believed that individuals need to take on more personal responsibility.
In The Lantern's September 30, 1970 issue, it was reported that the campus had approved a $15,447 lighting program to increase campus safety. In 1979, OSU installs 25 emergency phones around campus and continues to discuss how the student escort service can protect students.
Fast forward even further into the future to 2020, The Ohio State University's campus has dozens of blue light emergency phones that are direct lines to the OSU Department of Public Safety, increased lighting (including all the way to Morrill Towers, which were major concerns in 1969 and 1970s), and the Campus Area Bus Service (CABS), which is a free transit service provided by The Ohio State University Transportation and Traffic Management that does not require any identification to get on. CABS provides services to off-campus housing as well. Despite people's reservations about safety demands in the past, OSU did eventually meet each demand after receiving consistent pressure from students and the community.
It should be noted that after George Floyd and Breanna Taylor were killed by police in the summer of 2020, student activists demanded that OSU cut ties with the Columbus Police Department (CPD) in the name of safety for Black and Brown students. The mistrust of police is not uncommon as seen from WAR’s own attitudes about how useful they are in helping survivors of sexual or interpersonal violence. The call to sever all contractual ties to CPD, however, contrasts the calls of the early 1970s for more police to increase safety on campus. The difference in attitudes invites the question: how is safety conceptualized by different groups? Can sexual violence, and violence more broadly, be handled by entities other than the state and in what ways?
Women Against Rape (WAR) was critiqued for their “idealistic” goals. In the June 22, 1979 editorial, The Lantern asserts that it is the voice of realists and says that “the streets as we know them will never be completely safe, and any woman who walks alone at night is a fool.” Within the same article, The Lantern also conceded that without idealists many services would not have been won. After all, WAR was one of the most ambitious anti-rape groups in Columbus. The fact WAR was able to execute a lot of their plans such as the Block Houses, Foot Patrol, Self-defense workshops, Rape Crisis Center, and Rape Crisis hotline is proof that idealistic dreams could become real-life actualities, even if not all of them survived to the 21st century.
Another critique of WAR, although it is by no means exclusive to WAR or the 70s, is that people believed that survivors should just report to the police instead of women's groups if they want real justice. One such example is the incident in 1977 when a lesbian woman who was gang-raped by three men on the Oval, disclosed to WAR instead of the police. The argument was that the justice system cannot do its job when it does not know about the crime. WAR response to this argument was that women simply do not trust the justice system as much as they trust women's groups. Furthermore, some survivors simply want support and may not want to go through the ordeal of police reports or interrogations.
It is also important to recognize the tension between WAR's advice in the 70s and 80s for women to learn how to defend themselves while also teaching how sexual violence is caused by systemic issues rather than specific individuals. Advice such a "We believe that if she [women] stands up for herself, it is less likely that she will be attacked.” from WAR community organizer Sue Burk may come off as placing blame on the survivor rather than the rapist.
Take Back the Night Critiques
Take Back the Night marches and their organizers faced various criticisms over the years, the most consistent criticism was against the decision to exclude men from marching. Men were often allowed to participate in the Take Back the Night rallies but asked to not march with the women. Many critics wondered how the goal of ending sexual violence would be achieved if men were excluded from the conversation.
The decision to exclude men from march varied from year to year. The 1979 march excluded men “to show men that women don’t need them for protection.” The 1990 march was women only and according to one of the coordinators – Gloria McCauley – it is because marching with men “is not empowering for women because we’re still falling into the stereotypes of our protectors rather than relying on our own inner strength and our own power of protecting ourselves.” In 2008, Women and Allies Rising in Resistance (WARR) insisted on keeping the march women-only to empower women but also because “a few years ago, one woman’s perpetrator attended and marched behind her.”
The 2018 and 2019 Take Back the Night marches allowed men to march and speak on their own experiences of sexual violence. Unfortunately, the 2019 Take Back the Night march had a similar incident to the one described by WARR in 2008. There has not been a concrete solution yet on how to include and protect all survivors in future marches.