January 7, 2013 • In web :: Features
Take Back the Night
Activist and couselor deborah singh discusses this global march and its herstory in Toronto.
Take Back the Night (TBTN) and the movement to end rape and rape culture is more than a protest about the fear of sexual violence and working toward ending it . TBTN has a rich history of working in solidarity with survivors and anti-oppressive radical movements in Toronto, working to create awareness around the issues that survivors of sexual violence face. Each TBTN is also informed by particular ideologies, activisms, and actions, but Herstorical context for TBTN Toronto is a necessary starting point for this piece. I will also speak to some of the current sexual violence that is plaguing Torontonians and connect that to the problems that feminist activists face today in the struggle to end sexual violence.
A Brief History of TBTN Toronto
Take Back the Night is a protest around ending sexual violence, violence against women and the fear we experience walking the streets at night. But Torontonians and the many community members who have supported in the planning of the event for the past 32 years see it as so much more than a protest to highlight the issue of sexual violence perpetrated by a stranger.
TBTN Toronto began as a response to the murder of Barbra Schlifer, who was raped and murdered in the stairwell of her east end Toronto apartment building in April 1980. She had just completed her law degree and the same night of her sexual assault and murder, she had been celebrating her call to the bar.
It is obvious that we did not need another woman to be raped or murdered to hold this event in Toronto. However, the high profile of Barbra’s case and her dedication to working with marginalized and oppressed people through the legal system incited both activists and her close friends to make local the globally-run protest. TBTN gave this initial group the space to also protest and respond to the obvious tragedy and political violence of this murder.
In my mind, 32 years is a long time for any event to exist in the city of Toronto, let alone an anti-oppressive, radical march like Take Back the Night. At the same time, because TBTN is now a global phenomenon, sexual violence is often portrayed as an issue that doesn’t need our attention anymore among North American society. That said, for us at the collective of the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre/Multicultural Women Against Rape (TRCC/MWAR), there is so much more work to be done.
After more than three decades of resistance and struggle, TBTN has achieved a favored reputation among survivors, feminists and the mainstream public alike. In my experience coordinating the event along with numerous community organizations, I have experienced this march’s legacy as a grassroots event that empowers women to share our experiences of survivorship, allowing us to be our own experts and working together with other communities to stop violence.
In my four short but thrilling years as coordinator, participants have shared fond memories of past events, folks automatically trust my politics when I say I run TBTN, I’ve had supportive and respectful conversations with every venue I have ever called to ask to host the event, and I have found surprising but welcome allyship from police officers on event day. Further, every year more and more women and trans people join the Community Planning Committee, having never been to the event before, but having heard about it from other community members through word-of-mouth.
As we seek to highlight our experiences of sexual survivorship—including rape, sexual assault, domestic violence and childhood sexual violence—we see that violence is a tool of oppression. This means that those in power use violence as a way to continuously marginalize people based on their gender, race, class, age, ability, income, religion, family configurations, weight, looks, accent and the list goes on. At TRCC/MWAR, we strive to always incorporate intersectional, anti-oppressive politics into our practices—including TBTN.
At TRCC/MWAR, we work from an anti-oppressive framework that highlights our multiple identities and how we are treated in the world, based on them. Sexual violence impacts everyone, but there lies a further impact if you are marginalized and oppressed within society. This means that TBTN resists and responds to violence against women, but also draws attention to the connected issues that make some of us more vulnerable to that violence. For example, Indigenous women are 2.5 times more likely to experience violence than non-native women and young women between ages of 15-24 are also at an increased risk of experiencing violence.