For the first time since 2019, members of the community will be taking the streets Thursday evening in support of Take Back the Night York Region.
A global movement that began in the 1970s to protest gender-based violence, the Women’s Support Network of York Region wasn’t able to hold the event in person as of late due to the pandemic and that’s why this year it carries profound significance.
“While our core mission has always been to raise awareness of sexual violence and gender-based violence and eradicate it, this year, we are also acutely aware of the need to address the emotional and social wounds inflicted by the pandemic,” said Natalie De Luca, public education co-ordinator, Women’s Support Network of York Region. “One of our objectives is to rebuild the sense of solidarity and unity that the community may have lost during the extended periods of isolation and lockdowns.”
De Luca said that the pandemic amplified instances of sexual violence and gender-based violence and with this being the first in-person event since, she called it a symbolic step toward healing and rebuilding the bonds that hold the community together.
“It's a reminder that even in the face of adversity, our collective strength and commitment to ending sexual violence and gender-based violence can and will prevail,” she said.
Take Back the Night is for community members and survivors to come together to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence and gender-based violence in communities, workplaces, schools, and homes.
“It’s also to show that there’s support for survivors,” said Jackie Benn-John, executive director, Women’s Support Network of York Region. “We want to take a stand and eradicate sexual and gender-based violence worldwide. This violence happens in York Region and across the globe. There’s a target against women and girls and we’re responding to the murders and femicide.”
Protesting and showing resistance to the violence happening in local communities is really important, Benn-John said, especially to do it out loud.
“It’s not a report for people to read… having that visibility of communities coming together at night is intentional because there are many stereotypes that talk about not going out at night or being dressed a particular way,” she said. “We really want to rebut those myths and show that there’s support and the community cares.”
Benn-John said while it used to be easy for members of the community to live in a bubble about the topic, that has changed in recent years with more and more sexual and gender-based violence issues coming to light.
“If you look at social media, more cases are coming forward and we’re hearing more about it,” she said. “There’s more awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace, vulnerable people being assaulted, and there’s a better understanding of consent. We have more people reaching out for that support and movements like #MeToo helped with this, but there’s still more work to be done.”
This is the 25th annual Take Back the Night in York Region, and the issue isn’t going away as the numbers continue to increase, said Benn-John.
“The reported sexual assault rate in 2021 reached their highest levels since 1996, according to Statistics Canada,” she said. “We know it’s increasing and that’s concerning. That’s why bringing the community together is so important because it will foster solidarity and promote safety and support for survivors.”
The education aspect of Take Back the Night is just as important as the protest to help bring awareness to the fact that this sexual violence is prominent in York Region, said De Luca.
“Education is a powerful tool,” she said. “In 2022, per the York Regional Police statistics report, they received 1,063 reports of sexual violations. That demonstrates an increase from 2021, where there were 796 reports.”
Listening to and supporting survivors while challenging stereotypes and using inclusive and respectful language are key tenets of Take Back the Night York Region, said De Luca.
“Offer a compassionate and non-judgmental ear to those who may want to share their experiences,” she said. “Let them know that you believe them and that you’re there to support them in whatever way they may need. It’s also really important to speak out against harmful beliefs that perpetuate rape culture and challenging derogatory or sexist language when it’s safe to do so.”
To continue the conversation beyond participating in Take Back the Night, Benn-John and De Luca encourage the community to donate to organizations that support women, get involved as volunteers, and work to educate themselves.
“We have a lot of important workshops and we go into community spaces to provide information about human trafficking, consent and relationships,” said De Luca. “Understanding these issues and their impacts is really one of the first steps for advocating for change.”
“People face many barriers when trying to deal with the trauma they experience,” added Benn-John. “It’s important to be an advocate.”
Take Back the Night York Region is Thursday, Sept. 14 at Aurora Town Park, 49 Wells St., and will begin at 6 p.m. More information about Take Back the Night York Region can be found here.