Setting the Stage

My name is Mia Cai Cariello (she/her). I created this exhibit to showcase the development of anti-rape activism at The Ohio State University from the 1970s to the present. There were many groups that tackled the issue of sexual violence over the years, but each seemed to have a different approach and ebbed and flowed in influence. Some morphed into different entities altogether while others disbanded entirely.

The exhibit will guide you through archival materials, beginning with a contextualization of OSU’s campus and issues in the early 1970s and ending in 2020. The exhibit will then guide viewers through the founding of organizations such as the Women’s Action Collective (WAC) and Women Against Rape (WAR) and the events that them. Then, moving into the persistent yet adaptive activism of the Take Back the Night movement in Columbus in the late 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. I also highlight how solidarity amongst and between various people of different sexual orientations, ethnicities, classes, and races contributed and enhanced the overall anti-rape movement. Finally, I examine how the criticism that the groups and movement faced resulted in shifts in anti-rape politics and in the goals of contemporary anti-rape activist groups.

A number of reported rapes and assaults on campus from 1969 to the early 1970s led students to call for change. The main concern was coeds’, the term used to describe women,’ safety on and off-campus. On April 1, 1969, there had been four assaults within six days, all between the hours of 12:00 pm and 6: 00 pm. The fact that these assaults were happening during daylight hours challenged the myth that rapes only occur at night or in dark allies. There were two more rapes reported in the university area apartments on October 14, 1969. Students demanded better lighting around campus. Students also reported that they were being turned away from the university bus late at night and forced to walk in the dark simply because they did not have a bus pass. After a student was molested, students demanded an expansion of bus routes into more residential areas and the relaxing of bus pass requirements. On October 28, 1971, The Lantern reported that the amount of sex offenses occurring in the campus area alone is equal to all of the sex offenses in the rest of the city. The same article also states that the university leads the city in rapes as well.

 The safety concerns of  1969 and the early 1970s were eventually addressed in the coming years, albeit not immediately or without pushback. The patterns of sexual violence on campus that caused these safety concerns in the first place, however, would persist throughout the next half-century.

The persistent sexual violence on campus was met with pushback and protests from anti-rape activists. Nearly all of the anti-rape groups and movements utilized direct action and community organizing, such as the annual Take Back the Night marches or WAR's block house initiative. It is evident that the Women’s Action Collective, Women Against Rape, Take Back the Night, and the plethora of other groups and movements fought and continue to fight for better resources, survivors, and policies in the hope to end sexual violence. 

The collective effort by various anti-rape organizations and individuals is highlighted by the fact that anti-rape activists of the past continue to transmit intergenerational knowledge to younger activists. WAR members of the 70s and 80s helped to advise WARR members in the early 2000s who in turn advised the revival of Take Back the Night and Take Back the Night at Ohio State in 2018 and 2019. 

While the struggle to end sexual violence is a long one, the collective effort of the past, present, and future anti-rape activists ensures there will be plenty of people who will continue the fight.

Setting the Stage