Why we (still) Take Back The Night

One in three; one in six; one in five.

Say what?

In Ontario, one in three females, one in six males, and one in five transpeople experience gender-based violence — and Lisa Clarke believes those statistics are low.

“So the need for events like Take Back the Night to advocate with survivors of violence and their supporters is extremely important,” said Clarke, community engagement and project manager at Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre (KSAC) in Peterborough/Nogojiwanong, Ontario, in an interview. 

Thursday evening (Sept. 21), KSAC, which has partnered with the regional Take Back the take back the night poster 2017Night for over 30 years, will hold this year’s event at Fleming College at 7 p.m. to honour all survivors of violence against sexuality, gender-expression and gender identity. 

There will be a rally with spoken-word artists, musicians, and survivors sharing their stories at the Peterborough event, and a candle-lit walk to “light the pathways through the safe passages in safe communities at night because that is the time when often violence against women and sexualized violence occurs,” Clarke continued in an email. 

Lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, trans-identified individuals and queers of all sizes and shapes are also endangered on the streets. Street violence is also racialized in our communities, so that people of colour of all genders and sexualities are also made to feel unsafe walking on the streets at night.

The event will take place simultaneously in four counties in the cities and towns of Peterborough, Cobourg, Lindsay and Haliburton, all at Fleming College campuses.

Take Back the Night started in Philadelphia in 1975, as a response to the murder of a young microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth. This spawned a number of international marches, the first and largest of which was a march in Brussels, Belgium, that coincided with the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in 1976.

Early marches were often deliberately women-only (and many still are) to symbolize women’s individual walk through darkness and to demonstrate that women united can resist fear and violence.   The mission of Take Back the Night has since grown to encompass all forms of violence against all persons, though sexual violence against women is still the top focus.

In current practice, Take Back the Night events include men as allies, bystanders, and supporters. In relation to taking back the night specifically, it is important to realize that women and female-bodied people are not the only people to experience gendered violence and fear on the streets at night, said Clarke.

Lesbians, bisexuals, gay men, trans-identified individuals and queers of all sizes and shapes are also endangered on the streets. Street violence is also racialized, so that people of colour of all genders and sexualities are also made to feel unsafe walking on the streets at night. It is important to realize that all of these struggles are intertwined and thus, must be challenged together in order to be overcome, she said.

“In Peterborough we have expanded the vision of Take Back the Night to include people of all genders who are suvivors of violence, plus men as allies and a community recognition that rape culture is a real thing and we need to challenge it and critically think about it,” Clarke said.

In Belleville, Ontario, its Take Back the Night  is “very much about rape culture,” said Elissa Robertson, a member of the organizing committee for this year’s event, which was held Sept. 14. Approximately 100 people attended, double the number of last year’s. 

. . . It’s become apparent that alone at night isn’t the only time women fear violence and that the culture we live in has made this acceptable.

“Take Back the Night is a reminder to our community that violence against women is still a tremendous problem and that despite what rape culture and its enablers want us to believe, there is no such thing as asking for it,” she said, in an email. “The blame for violence falls on the perpetrators of violence alone and not on the victims.” 

TakeBacktheNight“I think when it (Take Back the Night internationally) began it was discussed as an event to combat the fear women experienced while walking alone, but now that the issue has been further analyzed it’s become apparent that alone at night isn’t the only time women fear violence and the culture we live in has made this acceptable. It dictates women’s habits, telling them how to dress, what places they can go and that they can be held responsible if violence is committed against them,” said Robertson. 

The Belleville event asks women only to participate in its march “because the goal is that women will be able to walk alone, without a ‘protector’ and feel safe. Women are the primary targets of violence and are frequently the subject of victim blaming. It is vital to the movement that women only participate in the march, as it is aimed at empowering women and freeing them from violence,” she continued.

Male allies, though, are encouraged to be present at the Belleville rally.

“We believe that men can be part of the solution and encourage them to reject ideas that contribute to violence against women: toxic masculinity, rape culture, victim blaming, and to support the women (and survivors) in their lives,” Robertson said.

belleville-tbtn-4.jpgThe Red Dress Project — a response to the over 1,000 murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada – was included in the Belleville Take Back the Night this year to acknowledge the disproportionate rates of violence native women experience and to remember all women who have gone missing or were found murdered in Canada.

“These acts of violence were ignored for far too long, and we want to remind our communities that these women should not be forgotten,” said Robertson. 

For both Clarke and Robertson, Take Back the Night has personal meaning.

“I was raised being very fearful of being out late at night, of walking alone,” said Clarke. “I’ve experienced violence, and, for my children, I want to live in a world where I don’ t have to fear someone walking behind me or across the street. I would rather see them as friends and neighbours and not as a threat.” 

“I’ve been attending the marches since I was a child with my mother, who works at a local women’s shelter,” said Robertson. “Having experienced violence and knowing that most of the women in my life have experienced gender-based violence, these events are really important to me. I have a one-year-old daughter and I now bring her to these events too. I don’t ever want her to believe the toxic myths about gender, sexuality and violence that our culture forces upon us. I want her to grow up challenging these ideas as I have learned to.”

Belleville, Ontario, Take Back the Night, Sept. 14, 2017:

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By Melodie McCullough

 

 

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