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Breaking the silence around rape and sexual violence: Take Back the News

An interview with
Emily Brandt
from Brooklyn, New York, USA

by Elke Zobl

June 2004


Rape and sexual violence are so prevalent in our socities that Emily Brandt decided to take pen and paper, or rather keyboard and computer, to work. She founded Take Back the News, a project of stories collected from survivors of sexual violence to expose how rape is under-represented and mis-represented in mainstream media.

 

Can you tell me first of all a little bit about yourself? How old are you, where are you originally from and where do you reside now?
I'm 23 years old, from Long Island and now live in Brooklyn.

What do you do besides Take Back the News?
I'll be starting to teach high school English this September at a super progressive high school. I'm also a poet.

For how long have you been doing Take Back the News now? Are you the only editor or is there a team?
I've started the project about 2 years ago. I'm the founder and director. I have a web designer and a few volunteers help out.

What made you decide to start this project? How did you come up with the idea and the name?
Early in 2002, I was living in Boston and there was a lot of really offensive news coverage of a rape that had taken place at a university there. The papers were basically trashing the victim - making it seem like it was her fault that she got raped because she was drunk and flirtatious. This is a pretty common occurrence. However, an independent paper published a huge 2 page interview with the victim and she told the story as it happened in her own words. It was such a relief to hear her voice and her perspective. I realized that all survivors of rape deserve this opportunity and I decided to start a print project that would offer survivors such a chance. I chose the name because of its reference to Take Back The Night, which people are already familiar with. It's sort of a year long, printed version of a Take Back The Night. While I was collecting stories for the first print project, I met Mike at a pro-choice benefit. He offered to build a web-site so that the project could reach many more people. Everything took off from there.

 

What do you hope to accomplish by doing Take Back the News?
I hope to keep collecting and printing stories of rape survival to offer survivors' a space to share their words and to offer the public an insight into the realities of rape. I want to start several more print projects around the country. There have already been projects in Boston, New Paltz, and Philadelphia. I want to reach as many people as I can. And get the stories into as many papers and publications as possible.





What has been the response to Take Back the News since you launched it?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Survivors have consistently contacted me to offer their input and their thanks for the project. And whenever I've spoken about the project, the audience has been really moved and opened by the stories, and the idea behind the project.

What do you love and find challenging about doing Take Back the News?
I love the fact that survivors are so willing to share their stories. It's really empowering for me, and for other survivors. The biggest challenge is continuing to reach new audiences, because rape is not on everyone's list of favorite things to hear about. It's also a lot of work to run the project, and it can be daunting at times. But I do what I can, when I can, and slowly but surely the project is growing.

What do you think does the process of telling their experiences of sexual violence - stories generally not told by mass media - to the women who submit to Take Back the News?
I think that sharing your story is above all else really validating and empowering. It's an opportunity to claim your experience by illustrating it in your own words. And it's a means of slamming the door on shame - offering your story to the public just screams that you can claim what happened to you, and let other people in on what society deems your "secret" and you can keep living.

 

 

 

Do you feel part of a zine community or network and what does it mean to you?
Because Take Back The News is not a zine, per se, I don't necessarily feel part of the community. But I started reading riot grrrl zines when I was about 12, and have always been inspired by the DIY attitude and expression. The community is so alive, and for that I'm really proud and grateful.

What are some of the zines you read and admire?
I grew up on Bamboo girl. I really admire any zine that exposes who the writer(s) is (are). Zines are a bold move, and I respect that.

Has the experience of doing Take Back the News been empowering to you? In which ways? What were some of main influences that have empowered you in your life?
Take Back The News has been empowering in the sense that I had this idea that I didn't know if anyone else would care about, and so many hundreds of people have responded, by sharing their stories, joining the mailing list, starting local print projects, volunteering, inviting me to speak at their events…. it's been really validating. I've been so influenced by the wonderful feminists in my life - my sisters, friends, and teachers. Musicians and artists and activists and writers…. Audre Lord, Alice Walker, Gloria Steinem, Kathleen Hannah, Ani, Louis Gluck, etc etc etc.

 

To survivors of sexual violence,

Many survivors are burdened by keeping their stories hidden from a world that tends to disbelieve, discredit, and stigmatize them. Perhaps you've felt this too, but sexual violence is not a rarity. According to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, one in three women and girls in the world will be beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime. This is an epidemic. To the discredit of the mainstream media, rape is under-represented and mis-represented. There's something you can do to change this - TAKE BACK THE NEWS!

It takes courage to share your story, but by adding your voice, your story, to the news, you revolt against the stigma, and release the shame that survivors are told to carry. This is your opportunity to share your words and help others understand what rape is and how it affects real people.

Stories may appear in print media in your state, but only with your permission. This may happen if a local anti-rape group or independent paper hosts a Take Back the News. You will be contacted by e-mail before your story is printed, and most stories will not be printed. Of course, all submitted stories will be displayed on the web site. And in order to respect your privacy, sharing your name is optional, though encouraged if you feel comfortable doing so.

(Introduction at http://www.takebackthenews.net/)
 

 

Which role does play the Internet for you? Does Take Back the News work best in the virtual space, or do you sometimes think about spreading to a print medium? Are there events going on around the web site?
The internet is vital to Take Back The News. It allows survivors everywhere to access the project, and that is an amazing thing about the medium. Take Back The News reaches more people through the internet, but is more powerful in print. Print projects generally appear in existing publications. So when readers are flipping the pages of an indy paper that their used to reading, and suddenly see all of these powerful and horrible accounts of rape, told in the survivors own words, it's incredibly startling and moving, and real. I so strongly believe in print media, and really want to focus there for the future of the project. As for events, I just spoke at a benefit for LadyFest East, and am always open to speak at feminist-type events.

Do you define yourself as a feminist? What are the most pressing issues you are confronted with in daily life (as a woman)?
Absolutely! (Who wouldn't?) I think the biggest issues in feminism now are reproductive freedom, global feminism, and violence against women. In my daily life, I frequently feel confronted with issues of sexism - whether I'm walking down the street and someone shouts a booty call, or I realize that in my classes it's mostly the boys who speak, or I realize that at work, all of the people at the top are men, or that most of the women in my office wore uncomfortable shoes and small everyday things like that. Oh and advertisements all over the place - horrible depictions of women! Not to mention George Bush. Ay.

What do you think about feminism today? Do you see yourself as part of "Third Wave Feminism" and if yes, what does it mean to you? Or why not?
I think feminism is at a strong point. So many women (and men) are organized in the movement and accomplishing so much. The backlash has been hard though, and has resulted in lots of people thinking feminism is unnecessary and unglamorous, and all about male-bashing. But these are illusions, and I'm confident that the movement will shatter them. I absolutely see myself as part of the third wave, and for me, that means building on the foundation set my the women in history that I admire with all of my heart. And it means recognizing that we have a long way to go, and that we can't stop until equality has been achieved in the workplace, in government, in healthcare, in the family, throughout the world - everywhere.

Do you consider grrrl zines or grrrl-friendly and -focused resource sites as an important part of a social movement? Do you think zines/resource sites as everyday feminist practices can effect meaningful social and political change at large, or do they have significance mainly in personal lives without larger implications? In other words, do and can grrrl zines/resource sites change the way people think, or is this just wishful thinking?
Grrrl zines and resources are certainly important. They have fostered an active and informed counter culture that has had far reaching effects on the culture at large. These resources staert by affecting personal lives - and that's the start of revolution. The people inspired by such resources are the ones out there kicking ass to get the work done. Zines are a huge stone causing serious ripples. That was cheesy but you know what I mean. Anything that is diseminating vital information and affecting the thoughts and actions of grrrls (and creating new grrrls all the time) is seriously powerful.

What would a utopian grrrl-friendly society look like in your view? How do you think society might be re-thought and transformed to come closer to an "ideal" world for women? Do you have any suggestions for the development of women/grrrl-friendly policies?
In a grrrl friendly society, rapists would be humiliated, not victims. Grrrls would hold at the very least, half of the major offices and have full say in how their lives and bodies are run. Men would break out of the myth of masculinity and women would break out of the myth of femininity. One thing that needs to be re-thought is the family structure. The myth that men can control women and that women need to do it all (work, bear and raise children, take care of the house, foster a loving relationship, etc etc etc) is ridiculous. Duties need to be shared and the society needs to be restructured to reflect the reality of women's life. Women are exposed to violence and this needs to be addressed. Women have children to care for, and day care needs to be readily available and affordable for all. Women are responsible enough to make their own choices about their bodies. Women are not second class citizens. Women can make their own choices about love and leaving. Women are their own power.
As far as U.S. policies go, three huge starting points are:
1. Reproductive freedom on demand without restriction
2. Child care available on or near all work sites and affordable or free
3. New standards for prosecuting perpetrators of violence against women - standards that will actually penalize perpetrators. This might include mandatory psychological evaluations, and mandatory investigations by the police upon complaint.

What are some of your personal wishes/visions/ideas/plans for the future?
My personal wishes are to expand Take Back the News into a nonprofit organization with tremendous reach, to continue to publish poetry locally and nationally, and to be the best damn teacher I can be.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Only Thanks!!

 

 



On submitting your story and finding out how to TAKE BACK THE NEWS on your campus!

http://www.takebackthenews.net/

Email Emily:
emily [AT] takebackthenews.net

 


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