Take Back the Night: A male perspective

(Cara Smith/AQ)

Dozens of women and children took to the streets of downtown Fredericton, armed with only their voices, picket signs and the honking support of cars passing by as they chant in unison, “We believe you!”

Friday marked the 27th annual Take Back the Night rally. This annual protest against violence towards women was organized by Fredericton Sexual Assault Crisis Center (FSACC). The theme for this year’s rally is “believing the victim.”

“This year’s theme is believe her,” says Lorraine Whalley, director and chair of this event, “we are trying to work against some of the misconceptions that exist. Often victims are afraid to come forward out of fear that they won’t be believed, or supported.”

Take Back the Night is an opportunity for women to come together to talk about and challenge sexual or physical violence. This begs the question, what is the man’s role is in this event and on the subject of violence against women?

Although this night is aimed at women, and leaves it up to them to “take back the night”, there seemed to be an exceptional number of male supporters who were more than happy to cheer alongside with the hundred or so women.

“We welcome any man to this event,” says Whalley, “the walk itself is for women and children only. It is so women have the opportunity to speak out against violence that predominantly happens them. But men definitely have a role to play and that is eradicating sexual violence.”

As the women set out on their march throughout downtown Fredericton they leave behind the male supporters. The 25 men are left to engage in a casual discussion and teach-in led by Bill Patrick, project co-ordinator for FSACC. The discussion began with what we believe are the main causes of sexual assault and how we can prevent it.

Patrick says, “We are allies in the struggle of rape and sexual assault. While most rapists are men, most men are not rapist. This discussion is another way we can support women. It’s time for us as men to step up and say that this stuff is not okay.”

This year had one of the biggest turnouts for male supporters within the last decade. Discussion consisted of men introducing themselves and stating why they are attending this event. The discussion then moved towards more of a question and answer period as to why men believe sexual violence happens so frequently.

The conclusion of the discussion was simple and straight-forward, “educating men everywhere that, ‘no means no,’ and promoting women as equals is essential to the prevention of violence against women.

“Rape is not just one guy doing something to one woman; it is a reflection of societal power imbalance. Rape occurs in a context of sexism,” Patrick explains, “Normally when women speak out against rape, they get called man haters, so I think we as men are an antidote to that kind of poison.”

Kelly Jarman is a student at UNB and also a member of Students for Direct Democracy Organisation.

“I think separating the men from the march was a great idea. It really just strengthens the message, saying that the women on the march don’t need men to accompany them,” he says.

The discussion amongst the men ended once the chanting of the empowered women reached the city hall. The men then gathered to the crosswalk of York and Queen to welcome the women back with applause.

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