Take Back the Night for victims of sexual assault
By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 12, 2017
One out of every three women in Ontario will experience some form of sexual assault in her lifetime. According to a report issued by the province in 2015, “there are 460,000 sexual assaults in Canada each year.”
However, in Haliburton County, very few women seek help through the Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre.
Lisa Clarke, community engagement manager with KSAC, said in rural areas, there is generally less willingness to come forward following a sexual assault because of the tightly knit environment of a small community.
“It isn’t necessarily safe in a rural environment,” she said in an interview with the Echo.
“So many people are harmed by people they know. It’s not actually safe to talk about what’s going on.”
For many years, those seeking counselling and other services to address the impact of sexual assault (both during childhood and adulthood) would need to travel to Lindsay or Peterborough to meet up with a staff member. Now, there are more options including video counselling using a secure connection and weekend web chats via the KSAC website.
However, there are still significant barriers to speaking out and to seeking help, which is why Clarke hopes members of the Haliburton County community will join in this year’s Take Back the Night candlelight walk in Haliburton on Thursday, Sept. 21.
“Take Back the Night is specifically around anti-sexual violence and harassment,” Clarke said. “When people gather together, we’re speaking out [to say] that we want to prevent sexual violence and harassment. We want to be part of a solution, of a caring and inclusive community, and we’re willing to put ourselves and our voices together toward this cause for ourselves, our friends, family and our children.”
A rally and walk through the village has multiple purposes. It offers the chance to start conversations in the community about sexual violence and harassment and to offer support to those who have been targets of this violence. When many people come to stand together, it also shows that the community supports those who have experienced this kind of violence. It also people to participate as part of a group, without feeling that they need to stand alone.
“When we all stand together, when friends, families, politicians, support workers, youth, parents, all come out together to walk, then people can remain anonymous if they’re not ready to share their stories, but they can walk together with people they know can support them in the community,” Clarke said.
The first Take Back the Night march was in response to the 1975 murder of Susan Alexander Speeth, a microbiologist in Philadelphia. Marches and rallies were held around the world and have continued ever since. Originally, the events were women only to allow women to “demonstrate that women united can resist fear and violence,” Clarke said. However, over time, the rallies were opened to everyone who wanted to stand against violence, “though violence against women is still the top focus.”
KSAC has partnered with Fleming College on the walk and is holding four simultaneous events in Cobourg, Peterborough, Lindsay and Haliburton – all towns that include a Fleming campus.
“We thought that it would be a really great partnership to be able to utilize Fleming’s four campuses and that way we can get into all of the different communities in which we wanted to run these kind of events,” said Amie Kroes, student rights and responsibilities officer at Fleming College. “It’s a mutual positive relationship.”
Partnering with KSAC sends a message to Fleming students and the wider population, she said.
“We, as a college, identify this as an issue. We, as a college, want to take a stand on this issue,” Kroes said. “We’re not just going to say this is an issue. We’re going to do something about it. There’s a genuine community commitment to making our world a better place.”
Recently, KSAC has been expanding its services into the smaller communities it serves, bringing counselling services one day a week to Cobourg and Lindsay.
Clarke said her organization is hoping to hear from the Haliburton County population about what services it needs.
“There’s lots of options, but we need to understand what’s the interest; what’s the need up in the county,” she said. “The centre would like to hear from survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault if they are interested in having more localized services and contact the centre to learn more about video counselling, weekend web chat and other options.”
Take Back the Night is Thursday, Sept. 21, starting at 7 p.m. at the Haliburton Highlands Secondary School athletic field. There will be a rally with guest speakers, spoken word poetry and music followed by a candlelight walk at 7:30 p.m. from the field along the waterfront, to York Street, making its way to Highland Street and then back to the field again.
Weekend web chats are Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. The chat is a free, anonymous service that connects survivors of sexual violence and harassment with professionals who can offer support. Go to kawarthasexualassaultcentre.com to access the service or to find out more about KSAC. The 24-hour crisis support line is 1-866-298-7778.