Take Back The Night event supports survivors

April 2—When Fara Lekhnych was abused as a child, she felt like her voice had no power.

But on Friday, she used her words to reach out to other survivors on Heartly House’s first Take Back The Night.

“There is so much hope for us,” Lekhnych said of the survivors ahead of her at the Baker Park Bandshell in Frederick.

Since the 1970s, Take Back The Night protests have protested violence against women and advocated for survivors, according to the Take Back The Night Foundation website. They have performed across the country and abroad, often on college campuses.

Jenn Metcalf, community engagement and prevention manager for Heartly House, said the nonprofit wanted to host its own Take Back The Night for a while. She said the event helps survivors “take back the narrative”.

“We know it’s a powerful thing for survivors to have a space to feel supported,” she said.

Heartly House has found its services in greater demand during the pandemic. The organization provides counseling, emergency shelter, legal services, a 24-hour helpline and more. It strives to help survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and child abuse.

“We’ve seen our numbers increase so much during COVID,” Metcalf said. “We know things have gotten worse for a lot of people over the past two years.”

Direct contact with customers and those who advocate for them increased by 9% over the previous year, according to Heartly House’s 2021 annual report. Counseling sessions increased by 7.65%, while calls to the hotline increased by 10%. The number of people who received legal support jumped by 37%.

Inga James, president and executive director of Heartly House, said Take Back The Night serves to honor survivors and those who did not.

“Take Back The Night is about creating safe spaces for everyone,” James said in an interview.

Survivor Doug Tinder of Frederick County hoped his speech at the event would reach other male survivors.

“Usually when they think of survivors, people don’t think of men,” Tinder told the crowd.

Tinder survived childhood sexual abuse. He always heals.

As he heals from over three years of abuse, Tinder tries to help others. He sits on the board of Heartly House and helped start a men’s support group. He is a board member of the national organization MaleSurvivor.Org.

“For a long time I thought I was lonely,” Tinder said.

He said around one in six men had been sexually abused before the age of 18. It can be particularly difficult for men to disclose the abuse they have suffered, he said, and most wait decades to talk about it.

“It’s unfortunate that so many of us remain silent,” Tinder said.

Lekhnych also thought of other survivors when she offered to speak to Take Back The Night.

“The more we talk about it, the less lonely people will feel,” Lekhnych said before stepping onto the band’s stage.

It was the first time she had told her story to such a large group in public. About 75 people braved high winds for the event.

“If you feel completely alone…I hope you leave knowing you’re not,” Lekhnych told them.

She described 14 frightening years of physical abuse, neglect and near-death experiences. Even when the abuse ended, it wasn’t really over. The trauma stayed with her, but Lekhnych continued to fight for others.

She founded the Blue Ribbon Project Adult Childhood Trauma Survivor Support Group. She also stood up for survivors of child abuse as she competed for Ms. Frederick 2018.

Lekhnych encouraged survivors to speak out. She told them they had the right to be angry, not to forgive.

Lekhnych called on the survivors of the sieges to rise and gather. About a dozen huddled together as the cold wind whipped the signs taped to the stage. They carried messages such as “Break the silence. Stop the violence”.

The bell tower rang as encouraging words poured in from Lekhnych.

“Fight no matter what,” Lekhnych said, addressing survivors directly. “When we fight together, we will win.”

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller

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