Students rally against rape culture
Campus hosts national movement
By Julia Peterson
On the night of Oct .5, a small crowd gathered at the Dr. Lloyd Barber Academic Green on the University of Regina campus for Take Back the Night, an event designed to raise awareness about the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities. As the assembled people put on glow-sticks – a safe alternative to candles – and held up colorful signs decrying violence and rape culture, they stood in defiance of the silence, coercion, and shame that often clouds discussions of these issues.
Since its inception in the 1970s as a way of protesting the violence that women experience while walking in public at night, Take Back the Night events have happened in over 800 communities and 36 countries. These events have taken many forms – marches, performances, and more – but they are all centered around the same mission of ending sexual violence in all forms, raising awareness about sexual violence, and supporting survivors of sexual violence.
According to Emily Lalonde, a fourth-year social work student who worked on organizing this event while completing her practicum at the Regina Sexual Assault Centre, holding Take Back the Night here in Regina is particularly urgent.
“It is about time,” she said. “Saskatchewan does have one of the highest rates in Canada of sexual violence, out of all the provinces, so it’s really prevalent in our society. This issue needs to be addressed, and this is just a stepping stone.”
She also emphasized that this event, and the supportive community it is intended to foster, is meant to be inclusive.
“Take Back the Night . . . is basically just supporting survivors and trying to raise awareness and end sexual violence of any kind,” she said.
“We don’t discriminate in who we support. It’s not just women, it’s everyone who is affected by sexual violence. We want people to know that sexual violence does happen in our community, and we want people to know that there is support out there if they have experienced or have someone they love who has experienced sexual violence.”
While Take Back the Night events can happen anywhere and welcome public attendance and participation, much of the activism and organizing throughout the movement’s history has taken place at universities. This is the first time that the Regina Sexual Assault Centre has been involved in organizing a Take Back the Night event, and for Sarah Ridley, a counselor at the Sexual Assault Centre, it was especially meaningful to hold it on-campus.
“We’re just very excited to be here,” she said. “It’s the first Take Back the Night event that we’ve done at the centre, so we’re happy to have it be on the university campus, given some of the history of the movement. It’s a good turnout for our first event, and we’re looking forward to continuing this on an annual basis moving forward.”
The event began with a reading from local poet and performance artist Carla Harris, who read two poems about her own experience of sexual assault and disability, followed by a moment of silence for the missing and murdered Indigenous women from our communities. Then, organizers invited attendees to write down their reason for attending this event on a paper flag and plant it somewhere around the perimeter of the green. Buffeted by the wind, the flags told their stories in just a few words each.
“For my family and friends,” one of them read. “For my mother,” said another. “For my daughter.” “For myself.” “For future generations.”
“We came to support one of our friends who works at the Sexual Assault Centre, and to raise awareness for sexual assault and all the victims,” said Jenaya Palazzo, who attended Take Back the Night with her friends.
Once the flags were planted, the crowd marched three times around the green, holding their signs and reflecting on the histories and hopes that had compelled their fellow marchers to take a stand against sexual violence out in this dark October night.
The event ended with Delaney Swystun and Dustin Lalonde performing the song “Sanctuary,” singing about the power and safety found in community. It was a particularly striking moment when Swystun sang the chorus: “All this time we have together is our shelter from the rain/I will share the weight you carry – let me be your sanctuary.” As the marchers completed their third and final lap around the green, the wind had picked up and a light rain had just started to fall, but the crowd pressed on together.
Haley Mary, who attended the march with a sign she had painted on canvas, said that she had come because of sexual violence that had taken place within her own family.
“It’s empowering, I would say, to walk around all these signs and see all these people, and hear Carla talk,” she said after the march. “I really hope that, someday, we’ll live in a world where everyone will respect one another and this kind of thing won’t happen.”
All of the organizers from the Regina Sexual Assault Centre who spoke wanted to emphasize that support and resources are available for anyone who needs them.
“Anyone who is experiencing issues with sexual violence or wants some support can always visit our website or our Facebook page, or call the office,” Lalonde said.
The Regina Sexual Assault Centre runs a crisis line that can be reached 24/7 at 306-352-0434, and the centre also offers free counselling, advocacy, training and workshops. Students at the University of Regina who have experienced sexual violence can also contact the university’s counseling services at 306-585-4491, and University Sexual Violence Prevention and Response at 306-337-3149, for support and assistance.