Image courtesy of cascade_of_rant’s Flickr photostream.
Video images by Shannon Clarke and video editing by Olivia Stefanovich.
It probably wasn’t the quiet Labour Day evening patio diners in the Annex were expecting, but it’s the evening they got.
Hundreds of women and men marched through the neighbourhood Monday night in solidarity against the string of sexual assaults in the area. At least ten cases have been reported in the Annex and Kensington Market neighborhoods over just a few months.
“Everyone was really ready to be angry and ready to talk about it,” said volunteer Chris Last, 26.
“I’m hoping the community realizes how much agency they have to take up space and take back the space.”
Annex residents met in Christie Pits Park before heading through the streets, including Korea Town and Little Italy.
“It was all really spur of the moment,” said Liz Brockest, a co-organizer of the event. “It was just an exhaustion of over and over again hearing about violence against women.”
The rally came together within a few days, and quickly amassed hundreds of supporters over Facebook. In addition to neighbourhood dwellers, the rally also drew students, advocates, and representatives from the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and City Hall. City Councillor Mike Layton spoke on behalf of the handful of men in the park, and the thousands more who make up White Ribbon Campaign, co-founded by his father, the late Jack Layton.
Protestors chanted as they walked through residential streets, drawing people out of their homes and onto their front porches. One family climbed onto the roof to watch and chant along with the protestors, yelling:
“They say stay home, we say fight back!”
The fact that the rally took place at night is a direct response not only to the perpetrator – all of the incidents involved women walking alone at night – but to a rape culture that tells women not to go out late, alone or dressed in “provocative” clothing.
Despite tremendous backlash last year after a police officer told a group of York University students to avoid “dressing like sluts” if they didn’t want to be raped, the mentality persists.
Krista Ford, niece of Toronto mayor Rob Ford, angered rape survivors and Toronto residents when she tweeted similar “advice” last week in response to the Annex and Kensington assaults, writing:
“Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes & don’t dress like a whore” with the hashtags #Don’tBeAVictim and #StreetSmart.
The tweet quickly landed on blogs and headlines across the country and the United States, and prompted one of the alleged assault victims to waive her legal right to anonymity and respond via Facebook.
“For the record, I was sexually assaulted while wearing a knee-length polka-dot dress,” she wrote, sarcastically adding: “The last time I wore that dress, it was to Easter dinner at my Gran’s, where I’m fairly certain I could make little to no money whoring.”
Ford later apologized before locking her Twitter account.
Annex resident, Margaret Lecuyer, was not impressed or convinced.
“That apology didn’t do anything for me,” she said. “It seemed like someone just told her she shouldn’t have said that.”
Lecuyer heard about the rally on the news and immediately told her daughter, Kianah. The Grade 10 student readily opted to spend her last night of summer vacation protesting with her mother.
“I’m going to school tomorrow, and I’m scared that on my way to school, god forbid, I’ll be raped or something,” she said.
“I feel terrorized,” said the elder Lecuyer. “I feel like I can’t walk [around] my neighbourhood anymore and I’m concerned about her.”
Torontonians should get used to these types of rallies. The momentum of Slutwalk was “definitely” a contributing factor to the large number of people willing and compelled to disrupt traffic to speak out against sexual violence, said Last.
“In a lot of ways people are angry, immediately about victim blaming, and that’s a piece of information people didn’t have before [Slutwalk].”
Long-time community advocate and George Brown College instructor, Anna Willats urged the crowd to respond like this whenever a woman is assaulted in their neighborhood.
“Every time you see this crap let’s have this many people out to say we refuse to accept this. We refuse to uphold this rape culture we are living in,” said Willats, standing on a picnic table in the middle of the park.
Allies, advocates and city dwellers can expect another march next week. Take Back the Night will take place on Saturday, September 15 and kicks off the Week Without Violence.