Take Back the Night rallying for safer streets in Hamilton

This article was originally published in CBC Hamilton, Sept. 19, 2012

Cassandra Henry has experienced a lot of violence in her life.

The 32-year-old mother and her 8-year-old daughter have had to move several times to escape domestic violence before settling in Hamilton two years ago.

It was not her intention to relocate. But she had to.

“There have been people in my life that make it ‘not safe'” admitted Henry, referring to abusive partners in previous relationships.

On Thursday, she will march through the streets of Hamilton to stand up against domestic and sexual violence for Take Back the Night.

Take Back the NIght is an annual street march in which people gather in solidarity and march for their rights to safety and protection from violence.

“It’s empowering,” Henry said. “The idea that women are showing strength and supporting each other — saying enough is enough.”

But organizer Erin Crickett thinks the march has a larger message for Hamiltonians than simply empowering women.

“It is to remind Hamilton that women still aren’t safe on the streets,” said Crickett, who also works as a public education co-ordinator at the Hamilton Sexual Assault Centre.

Though Take Back the Night has been happening for over three decades, Crickett believes the event is still largely unknown to the general public.

“It’s really shocking that folks don’t know about us,” she said. “It’s not part of the common conversation in Hamilton.”

“Women have a lot to be angry about,” she added, citing that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime.

But Take Back the Night has its lighter moments, too.

“We can get together, celebrate and laugh,” said Crickett, emphasizing the creative side to this activist-focused march.

Aside from the a march, Take Back the Night organizers are promising laughter, yoga and Zumba sessions. The Hamilton Aerial Group will also be on hand to wow people with their acrobatic act.

Domestic violence support services: A need for a central hub

In her struggle to escape from domestic violence, Henry says she was grateful for the services offered by places like the Good Shepherd Centre, which helps abused women and children.

“Women were there supporting others and were understanding, patient and knowledgeable,” Henry said.

“Now I’m able to take the next step forward with my life. Life was dark and oppressed before.”

But Henry thinks more needs to be done to support domestic violence survivors. So she and two friends started 1 in Four, an online hub that connects abused women with help in Hamilton.

“There’s all these services available. But how do you find out about them? They don’t know where to go, how to access help,” Henry said.

Whether it’s through Take Back the Night or 1 in Four, Henry hopes to increase public awareness of sexual violence and abuse.

“I look forward to a future where women don’t have to fight for safety,” she said.

Take Back the Night participants will gather in front of Hamilton City Hall at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. Then at 8 p.m., they will march along Main to King, then onward to James, Hess and back to City Hall for food and rally activities.

Men can also show their support by attending a workshop called “What Can Men Do? Men Helping to End Gender Based Violence” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at the YWCA.