This evening in Fort McMurray local residents will gather in the Zellers parking lot at the Peter Pond Mall. It appears the evening will have a carnival atmosphere, with face painting and food and live music. The reason for the festivities, though, is anything but frivolous. Tonight the community gathers for the annual Take Back the Night.
Take Back the Night is an event with a long history, and occurs in many communities across the world. The idea is that people gather to rally and march to stop violence, particularly sexual violence, but it has also grown to encompass all violence. This year Take Back the Night has special meaning for me - because this year a friend was the victim of an assault.
I was in Vancouver this summer when I received a phone call from my friend. In a voice shaky with shock and fear she told me that she had been attacked in a public washroom. I cried when she told me, saddened by the fear and hurt in her voice. But I was something else, too. I was overwhelmingly angry.
You see my friend is not a reckless person. In fact I would say she is far more cautious than I. I am the one more likely to walk down a dark street at night (and did so for many years while living and working in downtown Toronto). And yet she was attacked, in broad daylight, in a public washroom that I myself have used. This attack made me realize how easily it could have been anyone - how easily it could have been me. And suddenly it became deeply personal, not just because it happened to my friend but because it was clear it could happen to anyone.
My friend is still dealing with the aftermath of the assault. I have seen how it has impacted every aspect of her life. I have realized how such an assault creeps into every facet of your life, and how an assault that lasts for minutes can have an impact that lasts forever. I continue to be hurt and sad for her, and I continue to be angry, too.
And that's why the title of this post is not "Take Back the Night". While we may gather and march to take back the night what we are really doing is taking back the right - the right to walk our streets in safety, the right to be free from violence, and the right to live our lives without fear. We are not just taking back our nights - we are taking back our rights.
Tonight I will attend the Take Back the Night rally, but with a slightly different attitude than last year. This year violence touched the life of someone I consider a dear friend, and I cannot take that lightly. I will be there because of her and my daughter and my sisters and my friends and myself. You see I am the incautious one, the one who can tend to be a bit reckless, and I know that in order to do that I need to take back the night. I need to take back the right to live my life as I feel I need to do, and be able to do so without fear.
I admit I have changed some of my incautious ways after my friend was attacked. I began to give a great deal more thought to my own habits and decisions, and I began to consider ways to ensure my own safety. I have been even more cognizant of this as my public profile has grown and I realized that being in the public eye comes with some risk. But I also refuse to live my life in fear. I refuse to back down. I refuse to be cowed and beaten down because of violence. I will take back the night. And I will take back the right to live a life without fear.
"Take Back the Night" 2012
will take place tonight,
Friday September 21,
at 4 pm in the Zellers parking lot,
Peter Pond Mall.
I hope you will consider
joining us as we
Take Back the Right.