January 7, 2013 • In web :: Features
Take Back the Night
Activist and couselor deborah singh discusses this global march and its herstory in Toronto.
Continued from page 2
Recent sexual violence in Toronto
While we carefully and anti-oppressively (as much as humanly possible!) planned this year’s march and event, reports of sexual assault across the city surfaced, (and were concentrated in the Bloor and Christie area). During this time, we received more calls from the media and other organizers than in past years. Mainstream and alternative media outlets were beginning to engage with a conversation about sexual violence, or so it seemed.
As a counselor and activist, it is a challenge for me to see this violence as an isolated, individual act upon a woman’s body. Working at the TRCC/MWAR allows me to see the larger picture surrounding this violence. This means many things. For one, the sexual assaults that we have heard about through the media are only those that are being reported. There is a high likelihood that there are survivors of the Thomas Reardon assaults, for instance, who have not come forward. According to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics Profile Series, Sexual Assault in Canada 2004 and 2007, 90% of sexual assaults are never reported to the police. (This number is partly created by the stats on how many assaults happen and how many of those do report to the police).
Another complexity of the violent assaults that have occurred across the city of Toronto is the actual reporting. Media outlets made a huge issue of the sexual violence that occurred in these areas because they were identified as stranger assaults. It is safe to assume that there are more survivors of sexual violence in these areas but their perpetrators were not strangers; they are men that are known to the women, like husbands, boyfriends, partners, brothers, fathers and uncles. Finally, the media could report on these assaults because these charges were founded by police and were released as sexual assault alerts on the news release page of their website. These sexual assault alerts were taken seriously by police because they were reported as stranger assault but also because these assaults happened in prominent, “crime-free,” middle class communities.
Due to the demographics (generally white, middle class, 25-45 year olds, students) in the downtown communities, I believe police, and even city councillors, took the violence that happened within these neighbourhoods more seriously.
Generally, there is a pervasive sentiment that things “like this” don’t happen in affluent communities like the Annex, the Village, or Kensington Market; violence like this occurs in areas that are populated with racialized, poor people … so we certainly don’t need to take those reports as seriously. These affluent areas are dense with people who know about things like TBTN, folks who attend International Women’s Day marches and other stuff that is “community-oriented.” These areas are full of U of T students, people who own some of the most expensive real estate in downtown Toronto and renters who can afford the downtown rents and standard of living. Within the context of violence, survivors in these areas are seen as more worthy of legal support and media coverage.
The challenge in this analysis is that of course, all violence is important to acknowledge and make political, and it is a great that this city is talking about and paying attention to the activism that is happening to resist sexual violence. At the same time, I don’t believe this would have been regarded in the same way if the area of town was Scarborough, Jane and Finch or Regent Park, and if it were, racialized communities would be blamed and shamed for it in some way, as survivors often are—especially when survivorship intersects with race.
When these reported sexual assaults occurred, TRCC/MWAR had already been planning TBTN for approximately two months. As an organizer, it is always a challenge to stay true to the focus of the event and not get lost in the details of planning or water down the issues. As a team of community members and non-profit organizations, we managed to keep clear the theme of the medicalization of our minds.