“If there wasn’t violence (against women) we wouldn’t be here tonight.”

Women, men and children come together for the annual ‘Take Back The Night’ event to strengthen the struggle against sexual violence. With files from Justine Cottingham-Leblanc…

According to a report issued by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador as part of their Violence Prevention Initiative, approximately half of all women over 15 living in the province will experience sexual or physical violence at least once in their lifetime. Only about 10 per cent of these women will report their victimization to police.

The staggering statistics, brutal reality, and continuation of the abuses were enough to prompt about 200 women and men to join in solidarity and denounce sexual violence against women Friday evening in St. John’s.

Sexual Violence Awareness week in the province’s capital city ended with an emotionally-charged Take Back The Night march downtown and rally outside City Hall. The annual event, in its 28th year in St. John’s, continues to grow, says organizer Andrea Milley, who works as an education coordinator for the Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre.

Together with a united voice

“It’s a time to bring women together to have a united voice, to say violence against women and children is not acceptable, specifically sexual violence,” she said following a speech on the steps of City Hall by Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour.

“I think there definitely has been a lot of progress made, (but) there’s still so far to go. I’d like to see a day where I don’t have a job with the sexual assault centre anymore  — that would be my ideal goal, and I think everybody would want the same.”

This year a men’s auxiliary (of about 25 people) gathered to discuss sexual violence while women and children marched from the old courthouse through St. John’s downtown core.

At about 8 p.m. the groups converged on the steps of City Hall to join in solidarity and hear Payne’s address.

About 175 women and children marched in St. John's Friday evening to denounce sexual violence against women. - Meghan Kennedy photo

“What really made me emotional this year was the men who were waiting for the women at the end,” one attendee posted on FaceBook following the event. “It sent out a strong message and signified so much support. It brought tears to my eyes to see how many good men there are out there!”

But the show of support is only a small step toward eradicating the societal norms that facilitate, even perpetuate, violence against women.

“When we can say that one in two Newfoundland and Labrador women will be physically or sexually assaulted at least once in her lifetime, we know the epidemic of violence is a long way from being eradicated,” Payne told the crowd, many of whom were holding signs decrying sexual violence. “So whenever I find myself in this situation, I remind myself of the gains women have made … I remind myself of the incredible work carried out by the feminists who came before us and how they never, not for one moment, thought that we couldn’t make it better — and that we could do this through our sisterhood and our bold actions with our voices raised in the night.”

Protection “as natural as breathing”

“I wonder how far we have come when I consider just how upside down the idea of safety has become,” she continued, “when (U.S. Senator Todd Akin) feels safe to speak such depraved anti-woman slander, and I and you must tell our daughters that it is not safe to walk alone at night. When as women we don’t even think about our little routines anymore — they are as natural as breathing. And you know what I’m talking about — our daily safety rituals.

“And the niece of (Toronto) Mayor (Rob) Ford, who Tweeted last week: ‘Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defense classes, and don’t dress like a whore.’ Every single part of that statement screamed, ‘Women are to blame. You weren’t alert enough, you should carry mace, you should have taken self-defense classes, and you should have dressed differently.’ So the problem is bigger than a Senator, backward and ignorant … because the Toronto mayor’s niece is not alone, and we must recognize this fact. Too often society still blames the victim, the woman. She is blamed for not leaving her abusive partner, she is blamed for not watching her drink at all times while out in the evening, she is blamed for going on a date, she is blamed because of what she wears. So let’s be very, very clear: How a woman dresses does not mean ‘yes.'”

"Too often society still blames the victim, the woman": Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour President Lana Payne. - Meghan Kennedy photo

Women shared their thoughts on sexual violence and the significance of Take Back The Night during the march.

“It sends chills up my spine; it’s amazing to see how many people come out to this kind of event. Just the atmosphere alone is enough to take your breath away,” said Cassandra Etheridge, a first time participant. “I struggled myself with a few issues a few years ago, and I think it’s good that we all come together and fight for this because if we don’t, who will? Nothing will change. For future generations — don’t stop fighting. We can’t stop just at this; we have to keep going.”

Along the way the marching crowd shouted, “Women, unite! Take back the night!”

“I think it gives a good voice to women who are disadvantaged, who won’t speak out,” said Meghan Edmunds. “We need a voice somewhere, and this is a good (venue) because everyone’s wondering what’s going on and we’re the voice for those whose (voices) are not heard.

“There’s a reason this is happening,” she continued. “If there wasn’t violence (against women) we wouldn’t be here tonight.”

Honest dialogue a necessity

Inside City Hall following the rally, one first year Memorial University business student by the name of Matthew was frank with his thoughts: “I didn’t really think about this sort of thing a whole lot, but I think it’s important that we have a dialogue to open up these sort of things … I never once, ever, talked about sexual harassment or sexual assault even though it’s the most basic of ideas.

“I think the dialogue is really important in helping advance how we interact with people, and how we can continue in our daily lives to discuss certain things,” he continued. “Because the more open we are about (important matters), the easier it is to find solutions to problems.”

The Newfoundland and Labrador Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre offers a toll-free 24-hour crisis support and information line, 1-800-726-2743. For more information, visit the centre’s web site.

Other Regional Coordinating Committees Against Violence:

Violence Prevention Labrador
P.O. Box 23
Forteau, NL A0K 2P0
1-866-446-8080, 709-931-2600
[email protected]

Northern Committee Against Violence
P.O. Box 190
St. Anthony, NL AOK 4SO
[email protected]

Western Regional Coalition to End Violence
P.O. Box 373, 2 Carmen Avenue
Corner Brook, NL A2H 6E3
[email protected]

Southwestern Coalition to End Violence
P.O. Box 621
Stephenville, NL A2N 3B5
[email protected]

Central West Committee Against Violence Inc.
5 Hardy Ave
Grand Falls-Windsor, NL A2A 2P8
[email protected]

The Roads to End Violence
142 Bennett Drive, Suite 2
Gander, NL A1V 2E4
[email protected]

Eastern Region Committee Against Violence
105 Manitoba Dr, Suite 304
Clarenville, NL A5A 1K2
[email protected]

Burin Peninsula Voice Against Violence
P.O. Box 87
Marystown, NL A0E 2M0
[email protected]

Communities Against Violence
P.O. Box 500
Bay Roberts, NL A0A 1G0
709-786-7182 Ext. 225
[email protected]

Coalition Against Violence
31 Peet Street – Tara Place, Suite 209
St. John’s, NL A1B 3W8
[email protected]

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