Now more than ever, Penticton needs to Take Back the Night.
Four local organizations have set aside Thursday night to reclaim South Okanagan streets from violence during an annual march. For Reasha Wolfe, Penticton and Area Women’s Centre advocacy outreach worker, Take Back the Night has too many meanings for area residents this year.
“Considering all the violence that our community has seen in the last few months, we feel like it’s especially important to take back our streets,” she said.
The centre helped organize a Strength in Numbers march in August following several weeks of brutal attacks on women in Penticton: a string of sexual assaults over the long weekend as well as the high-profile case of the 22-year-old woman who was allegedly kidnapped, confined, tortured and sexually assaulted in front of her child.
Wolfe said community residents have asked centre staff why public events aren’t held each time violence against women is perpetrated.
She said they wished they could, but they would unfortunately be inundated by the task.
“We just don’t have to the resources to do that. … We would be doing that all the time, and then we wouldn’t have time to serve the people who call us and knock on our door,” she said.
“We want all the people who have experienced violence or who have been affected, this is our response. This is the opportunity to let people know that it’s not OK with us if even one person is enduring violence.”
Wolfe cited the recent case of a 56-year-old Penticton woman who was allegedly killed by her common-law husband. Although that did not take place on a city street, she said she hopes the family knows they are welcome to take part.
“I really want the family of the woman … to feel like this is their night. I felt terrible there were so many rapes over the summer. There were more rapes reported over the August long weekend than ever before,” she said.
“We want the community to know that this is our opportunity to speak up for those voices who have been silenced, and to do it in a happy and positive way.”
More than 100 people attended last year’s march, and approximately 200 people took part in August after the rash of incidents. Wolfe said the heightened awareness altered the way many people in the community think about violence.
“People leave the event feeling powerful and connected, and that’s what we want. Often people experiencing violence feel helpless and isolated. We can sometimes change that in one walk,” she said, recalling how more people called and dropped by the centre after. “The solidarity of the community provided a safe space for other women who had experienced violence in the past. They felt inspired to finally look for help and sort through their experiences and see what kind of new life they can build.
“That alone is worth all the efforts that it takes to put these events together.”
The centre is joined by three other organizations in putting on the event: the Okanagan College Student Union and Women’s Centre, Ooknakane Friendship Centre and Okanagan Nation Transition-Emergency House.
Take Back the Night takes place each September in line with marches held throughout the world. The event began in the 1970s in the United Kingdom, organized by women who were fearful of walking on the street.
Wolfe said the Penticton march has expanded to recognize the fears of more than just women; men, children, seniors and members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities are all impacted by violence on the streets.
That’s why all ages, races and genders are welcome to take part in Take Back the Night.
“People find it really exciting and empowering,” she said. “One thing I like about Take Back the Night is it’s a fun event. Even though violence is a serious issue, to be able to walk down the street joyfully with a big group of people, it’s so much fun.
“It’s often people’s first step into social justice work, because they have so much fun doing that and they find it meaningful and see the effect it has on the community. That inspires people to find a place for themselves in other important efforts.”
On Thursday, participants are asked to gather starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Ooknakane Friendship Centre at 1203 Main St., from which they will march down to the new building at Okanagan College on West Duncan. A program featuring speakers and presentations will be held at 7:30 p.m. at the Centre for Excellence within the college. Donors and sponsors have covered the costs of venues, food and other items. For information, call 604-493-6822 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.