September 21, 2012
ST. CATHARINES - “My mother taught me that silence is never golden,” 24-year-old Emma Christie told a large crowd at the annual Take Back the Night candlelight vigil and march in St. Catharines Thursday.
“When you speak out against sexual violence … you are speaking for all of the women and children who don’t have a voice and the victims of abuse who have already been silenced,” said Christie, who has been coming to the event since she was a baby in a stroller.
She said she is angry about “a world of negative, narrow-minded people who call girls ‘vaginas’ and contribute to the rape culture we exist in,” and where women are told to “just relax and learn to take a joke.”
About 175 people, including a large number of men and children, attended the downtown event that has been held in Niagara since the late 1970s.
Take Back the Night has evolved from protesting violence that women experience while walking at night, to raising awareness of all forms of violence against women and children.
The theme of this year’s event was the impact of childhood sexual abuse — not only on victims, but on society as a whole. Twelve community agencies joined the Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre to illustrate the human and financial costs of the aftermath of abuse.
Roxanne Derhodge, a counsellor at the sexual assault centre, illustated her point by citing a 28-year-old woman named Susan Etienne — a fictitious character, she said, but who would be typical of women who need assistance later in life.
Susan Etienne was abused as a child, Derhodge said, but never received help. Derhodge said she will likely use services from many social services and health agencies when she becomes an adult.
“Susan did not ask to be an alcoholic, a drug addict, be in an abusive relationship or have mental health concerns,” she said.
“The things that were taken away from her as a child were safety, love, protection and the ability to make friends.”
Derhodge noted the costs resulting from child abuse in Canada top $15 billion annually. She said child abuse is second only to murder as the most expensive crime for society.
“We need to educate not only service providers, teachers and people in authority, but everyone in our community needs to know about sexual abuse, so we can actively stop the cycle,” she said. “We need to be open about the topic of sexual abuse — no more secrets.”
Em Heppler, a graduate of the University of Waterloo, has attended several Take Back the Night events before moving to the Niagara area this year.
“I don’t need to take back the night, but when my sisters walk they are told to be careful,” he said. “I am here to show my support for the struggle to end sexual violence.
“We (as men) have a different role to play. We all know someone who has been the victim of sexual violence and every woman has dealt with sexual harassment.”
According to national statistics, one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before the age of 18. With Niagara’s population of about 500,000, that is a total of more than 83,000 girls and 41,000 boys who will experience sexual violence at some point, with the most vulnerable time being seven to 13 years old.
“This issue will continue as an epidemic if we ignore what is happening to our children,” said Sharon Pazzaglia, who organized the event for the sexual assault centre.
Emma Christie led the candlelight vigil following the inspirational music and speeches as she has many times in past years. She said she finds the event “really empowering” and loves the spirit of the night.
And as she reminds us, “it’s not just one night, it’s every night that there is violence against women (and children). We need to fight it every day.”
Suzanne Mason is a public education co-ordinator for the Niagara Region Sexual Assault Centre