Take Back the Night and Take Back the Block attempt to replace fear and violence with community, celebration, and support.
For the 32nd year in a row, the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre is hosting a Take Back the Night march on Saturday—one that is resonating more than usual in Toronto, in the wake of a string of sexual assaults that has been rocking a central part of the city.
Earlier this summer a series of sexual assaults in the Bloor-Christie neighbourhood [PDF] prompted the Toronto Police Service to hold a public safety news conference; several women have also been assaulted in the Bloor and Crawford area [PDF]. While these clusters of attacks have caused the most alarm, many others have also been reported in the last month. (A full list of them is below.)
Statistically, that’s not a spike. According to TPS media officer Wendy Drummond incidents of sexual assault are actually down this year, though their high concentration in the Bloor-Christie area, and the number of public assaults, is what makes recent events unusual.
And that, say supporters, is why Take Back the Night is so important. Sexual assaults are still disturbingly frequent, a persistent aspect of life in the city. TBTN serves as a rallying point, as the public looks for ways to respond to the sexual violence, to make our streets and communities safer—now, and when the headlines calm down again, as they inevitably will.
This year, community members are also reaching beyond the purview of the traditional Take Back the Night march and have created a new extension of the event: Take Back the Block. Consisting of two block parties—one on the Ryerson campus at the Pitman Hall Quad, the other in Kensington Market at Bellevue Square Park—TBTB will feature live music (provided by Patti Cake and and Simon Borer of Entire Cities respectively), and attempt to create a celebratory atmosphere in areas where several of the reported assaults took place. Both block parties start at 9 p.m., just as the Take Back the Night march is scheduled to conclude.
Take Back the Block was created and planned by three community members: freelance journalist and writer Kasia Mychajlowycz, self-described “strident literary feminist” Heather Cromarty, and community organizer and communications professional Stephanie Guthrie. Cromarty told us that that “originally my idea was just to gather some of my friends together to go to Take Back the Night. It seems like this year, more than in recent memory, the message of Take Back the Night was important: that women have the right to live without fear. However, as more and more assaults began to be reported, I wanted to do something in and around the neighbourhoods that had been directly affected.”
All three organizers have personal connections to the neighbourhoods hit hardest by the sexual assaults, and wanted to do something specifically to uplift those communities, while also making them safer through public engagement. Mychajlowycz explains: “I live in the Annex, I just finished my master’s at Ryerson, I love shopping and eating in Kensington Market—these assaults hit home for me because they were happening right where I walk every day, many nights, and often alone… I wanted to feel like I had the power to do something.” (You can follow conversations about Take Back the Block, and a growing, broader discussion about assault and harassment, with the hasthag #TBTB on Twitter.)
The three credit a virtual army of supporters and volunteers, Take Back the Night organizers, councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Adam Vaughan, Ryerson University, the Ryerson Centre for Women and Trans People, and councillor Mike Layton’s office for helping get Take Back the Block organized on a compressed schedule.
While the Take Back the Night march itself is open to anyone but cisgendered men, who are encouraged to express their support from the sidelines, the Take Back the Block parties welcome “absolutely everyone.” Guthrie says participants should look forward to the opportunity to “meet other members of their community, make new friends, enjoy some music, and learn a few simple strategies for making more active use of the public space in their community, thus making the space safer for women—or anyone.”
Public Sexual Assaults in Toronto
A complete list of public sexual assaults that were reported to the Toronto Police Service in the last month. This list does not include domestic assaults.
- On July 31, a woman was assaulted on a TTC bus heading north on Islington [PDF].
- On August 4, a man lured a woman to his home promising to teach her English, forcibly confined and sexually assaulted her. Also, a man followed a woman into an apartment building at Queen East and Serbourne and sexually assaulted her in a stairwell [PDF].
- On August 7, a woman was sexually assaulted after exiting a bus at Kipling and Holywell [PDF]. Thomas Reardon was identitied as wanted for three sexual assaults in various locations throughout the city, all committed in late August [PDF].
- On August 13, a woman was placed in a headlock, choked, and assaulted at Markham and Eglinton [PDF].
- On August 19, a man fled in a taxi after assaulting a woman in Kensington market [PDF].
- On August 21, a teen boy was assaulted in one of the bathrooms at the Exhibition grounds [PDF].
- On August 24, a woman was sexually assaulted in a laundromat at Queen Street East and Greenwood [PDF]; a man fled on a bike after assaulting a woman at Gerrard Street East and Parliament [PDF]; and a woman was taken from Bloor and Bathurst to Spadina and Dupont and sexually assaulted [PDF].
- On August 27, a man pretending to be an immigration officer lured a woman to a hotel room, assaulted her, and attempted extortion [PDF]; a man broke into a woman’s ground floor apartment and sexually assaulted her [PDF]; and a woman was sexually assaulted at gunpoint at Martin Grove Road and Jeffcoat Road. [PDF]
- On August 28, a 16-year-old girl was sexually assaulted at Barton and Palmerston [PDF].
- On August 29, a man walked up behind and sexually assaulted a woman at Grace and Bloor [PDF].
- On August 30, at King and Dufferin a man broke into a woman’s home while she slept and sexually assaulted her. [PDF]
- On August 31, a woman was sexually assaulted while crossing the West Humber Trail bridge [PDF].
- On September 1, a woman was assaulted while walking on the pathway from Mornelle Court to Military Trail. TPS also announced that Robert St. Pierre is wanted for a sexual assault in the Walmer Road/Lowther Avenue area that occurred on September 4 [PDF]. On the same day a woman was assaulted twice by the same man: once at Church Street and Gerrard East, and again at Mutual and Gould [PDF].
- On September 5, a man sexually assaulted a woman and attempted to drag her into an alley in the Warden/ Brindletown Circle area.
- On September 6, Francisco Villanueva was charged with sexually assaulting two women on the TTC [PDF].
- On September 7, a York University student was followed home and sexually assaulted after a birthday party [PDF]. Late that night a man broke into two homes and sexually assaulted the elderly occupants, and attempted to gain entry to a third home [PDF].
- On September 10, a woman was sexually assaulted at Gould and Bond [PDF].
- On September 11, a woman reported that she discovered a man filming her from her second story window [PDF].
- On September 12, two men sexually assaulted a woman while she was waiting for the bus at Sheppard Avenue East and McCowan Road [PDF].
- On the evening of September 13, a woman was hit from behind and sexually assaulted while walking her dogs in Reesor Park, at Reesor and Steeles [PDF].
Kelli Korducki contributed reporting.