Taking back the night one step at a time

Photo by Celia Ste Croix
Photo by Celia Ste Croix

Take Back the Night! is an annual tradition taking place in multiple major cities around the world. About 60 protesters gathered at Norman Bethune square last Friday to condemn gender violence, sexual assault and what organizers call the “rape culture” in which we live.

Organized this year by Concordia University’s 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, the Take Back the Night! event started with a succession of speeches and performances from various Montreal-based associations.

“We live in a culture where rape and sexual assault are normalized and expected,” said Julie Michaud, administrative co-ordinator at the 2110 Centre. Michaud explained that the notion of women attracting predators by wearing short skirts or revealing clothes when walking alone at night reinforces the idea that sexual assault is expected.

Associations touched upon a range of topics but the nature of the message stayed strong from one speaker to another. Québec Trans Health Action, a group for the rights of transgendered people, condemned the dynamic of fear and exclusion in which certain individuals, especially sex workers, are forced to live in. The Action des Femmes Handicapées described the violent nature of the “circle of dependence” in which physically disabled women live.

Finally, the pro-choice Reproductive Justice League performed a chorus enumerating the many ways a person can say “no” to sex, from “I’m tired” to “I’m not sure” to simple silence.

The march started around 7:45 p.m. and carried on for an hour through the main arteries of downtown Montreal.

“It’s something I’ll never understand as well as [women] do, but marching in an event like this one gives me a better understanding,” said protester Andrew Hogg. “The problems of sexual assault are usually hidden and are personal things that often people don’t talk about. I also don’t think most men talk enough about sexual assault.”

On the way back to Concordia a seemingly confused bystander exclaimed, “Is that really a protest against sexual assault?”

The bystander, Peter — who declined to give his last name — was on a cigarette break outside the restaurant he works at when he saw the march passing on De Maisonneuve Blvd.

“Everybody is against rape,” Peter told The Concordian. “I don’t see the point for a protest and blocking the street for something everyone agrees on.”

This type of argument is common in today’s society and translates a misunderstanding about the nature of sexual assault, according to Felix Chu, a volunteer at the 2110 Centre.

“The problem is people don’t know what sexual assault is,” said Chu. “We have such a pervasive rape culture where saying a verbal no is the only thing that [will make] people … take no for an answer. But there are some people that will coerce and emotionally blackmail, especially in university settings where there is so much date rape. People won’t call it rape. That’s what we’re trying to change.”

The 2110 Centre has been campaigning for a number of years to have Concordia follow the example of McGill and the University of Alberta and create a sexual assault centre in order to welcome and help victims of sexual assault, as well as educate students on what consent is.


  1. How is “I’m tired” saying NO to sex? It’s saying “I’m tired” and nothing more. If the guy won’t back off after “I’m tired”, then say “No”. And if he won’t back off after “No”, taze his ass! But seriously, these people need to learn the difference between rape and harassment. It’s only rape if the victim is physically forced into it or is coerced into it by threats of violence. Everything else ranges from mild assertiveness to outright sexual harassment. Pretty soon they’ll be calling it rape if the woman didn’t propose having sex in the first place.

    1. Thank you for providing this very clear example of rape culture. “I’m tired” or any other excuse is simply a more polite way to say “No, I don’t want to have sex right now” or “I don’t want to have sex with you”. Suggesting that the only way to have your NO (or no synonym) respected is to carry a weapon is exactly the problem. 

      1. Of course, I was being colourful in my language, and don’t actually expect anyone to carry a tazer to ward off potential rapists. But let’s be reasonable please. Are you actually suggesting that everyone immediately cease all seducing and verbal pleas and attempts to have sex at the first utterance of “I’m tired”? If so, I’m afraid the world will have to repopulate the human race through cloning and other such scientifically-based endeavours. I’ve had the same girlfriend for 6 years and I can’t even remember the last time I got laid without some form of initial mild verbal hesitation on her part. Good God, I’m not a rapist, am I?

        1. If your girlfriend is making an excuse to not have sex every time you initiate something then that sounds like something that needs to be discussed with her. For the record, being in a committed relationship doesn’t mean that a person can’t be sexually assaulted, and there are many ways other than physical violence (or the threat of violence) to coerce someone into doing something they don’t want to do (financial dependence, blackmail, etc.). It’s not uncommon for people to give in when they feel like their NO won’t be respected. Sometimes it’s easier to just get it over with. That does not make pressuring someone to have sex ok.

          1. Also, there are times when I’m not in the mood and she tries to initiate something with me and I protest quite staunchly yet she still pushes it, sometimes beyond mere verbal suggestion, until I give in. Sometimes, I end up loving it. Sometimes, I just go through with it to make her happy despite me really not being up for it. Her doing it to me actually happens far more than when I verbally cajole her into uninterested sex. I’ll make sure to tell her that she has sexually assaulted me on numerous occasions. Thank you for making me realize that I have been a victim for six years. Could you perhaps recommend any support groups for folks such as myself?

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