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Women who fear walks in dark rally to `take back the night'

The thought of taking a solitary stroll on a brisk autumn night, as leaves quietly shake free of trees and crumble beneath your step fills many people with terror.

Violence and the fear of violence have robbed urban dwellers - particularly women - of the simple pleasure of being out alone after dark in their own town or even their own neighborhood."Women in general throughout the country are afraid to be out at night," said Britt Abraham, a community services representative for the Rape Recovery Center.

And not without reason, she said, citing statistics that paint a grim picture of violence against women. Addressing a crowd of about 50 women and men at a "Take Back the Night" rally in downtown Salt Lake City Sunday night, Abraham said, "We're not doing enough about crime."

In 1995, Utah ranked 13th in the nation in the number of rapes, exceeding the per capita rate of California and New York, she said. And there was an arrest in only one of every 12 rapes, she added.

Nationally, somewhere between one in four and one in eight women will be sexually assaulted or raped in her lifetime. The only place men face that degree of sexual threat is in prison, Abraham said.

"It's shocking that we live in a society comparable to prison in that respect," she said.

Beside the external threat of violence, women also face the violence of spousal abuse in the home - where there's no place to hide. "We need to try to find ways to protect women when they try to escape," Abraham said.

And while there are no easy answers, she said a good place to start is public awareness, which was the goal of the "Take Back the Night" rally.

Held in communities and college campuses throughout the country over the past three years, the event is billed as a "protest of violent crime."

Sunday night's rally at the Salt Lake City-County Building was organized by University of Utah students Eva Michelle Hunter and Mikal-Anne Waters. They said they were motivated by the anger they felt when fear of violence discouraged them from walking home from the Utah Arts Festival last summer.

A candlelight march that followed the rally was intended to evoke community involvement, the organizers said. It was the kind of stroll few of the participants would have attempted alone.