Ottawa marks 40th anniversary of Take Back the Night

The call to end sexual violence echoed down Elgin Street Thursday night at the 40th anniversary of the international Take Back the Night March.

#MeToo has renewed drive to stamp out sexual assault, harassment

Take Back the Night is an annual march that calls for the end of sexual violence. Thursday night's edition was the 40th in Ottawa. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The call to end sexual violence echoed down Elgin Street Thursday night at the 40th anniversary of the international Take Back the Night March.

The event has been held in Ottawa for decades, but the discussion at this year's edition shifted toward how significant the #MeToo Movement has been in bringing the issue of gender-based violence to the forefront.

Bailey Reid, chair of the public engagement committee for the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, said #MeToo has increased demand for services.

"Sexual assault centres are seeing an increase in need. There's 30 per cent more people going and we're not seeing that in resources going to those centres, and that's important too," she said.

Bailey Reid is chair of the public engagement committee for the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

There have also been more gradual changes in the conversation about sexual violence in the last 40 years, Reid said.

"It's much more gender-inclusive. We're not just talking about women anymore, we're talking about the whole gender spectrum and that's important. I think a lot of the sentiments are still the same though because we're still seeing victim-shaming and victim-blaming when it comes to sexual violence," she said.

One person at the rally was dressed as the 2015 Ontario sex-ed curriculum. The PC government's recent rollback of the curriculum was a major issue for speakers.

People gathered at Ottawa City Hall before they took to Elgin Street and marched through downtown. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

That and continuing instances of missing and murdered Indigenous women are signs more work is needed, Reid said.

During Thursday night's march, Deborah Owusu-Akyeeah spoke about anti-black racism and the intersection with sexual violence. Amelia Calbry-Muzyka spoke about the resilience of sexual assault survivors.

"I think the fact that this is the 40th anniversary really says something about the society we live in. We've been doing this for 40 years and we still need to be here," said Ally Crockford, a rally organizer and public educator with the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre.

"Success for us would be that we don't have to do this anymore. I would love for there to be a day when the third Thursday in September rolls around and we're sitting at home comfortably and we're not worried about people walking around on the streets and experiencing sexual violence."