After not taking place last year due to the uncertainty posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the annual protest against sexual violence, intimate partner violence and street harassment Take Back the Night returned in a virtual format last Wednesday.
Organized by a coalition of organizations including Klinic, Rainbow Resource Centre, the Women’s Centre on the U of M campus, Canadian Federation of Students — Manitoba and others, the virtual rally heard from a diverse set of speakers sharing their struggles and hopes for the future.
Tracy Karuhogo, an organizer of the event, said organizing remotely posed challenges but ultimately events like this still need to take place.
“Living in Winnipeg itself, even with a pandemic, thinking that people stay at home, or it’s quiet, it’s really not,” she said.
“We always hear of missing Indigenous women, missing women in general, you always see stories [telling us] do not go to this point at this time because there’s some girls who have [gone] missing, or there’s a member of the LGBTQ+ community who has been hurt, who has been threatened, and all this, even during the pandemic.”
UN Women has reported an uptick in violence against women since the pandemic began.
The rally began with an opening prayer dedicated to missing and murdered women, girls and two-spirit people from Alvina Smith of the Buffalo clan and an honour song from the Buffalo Gals Drum Group.
UMSU vice-president student life Savannah Szocs shared her experiences of sexual violence on campus and called for more preventative measures as well as more survivor-centric approaches to justice for survivors.
She gave an account of being drugged and raped on campus and after reporting the incident being “interrogated” by a lawyer hired by the U of M to investigate.
“This process lasted six months and absolutely consumed everything I had left in me during that time,” she said.
“This lawyer was undoubtedly biased. She was paid by the university and was influenced to find an outcome that [the university was] satisfied with. If she found that the perpetrator was guilty, the university would be liable. When the investigation wrapped, the lawyer concluded that although she didn’t believe I was fabricating anything, since I was under the influence of a date rape drug at the time, my rapist’s accounts of the night were ultimately more credible than my own.”
In the end, the perpetrator faced no consequences and Szocs said she was left “in a worse place” than she had been before the investigation.
Statistics Canada reported in 2017 that from 2009 to 2014 only around five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police. Of those cases reported, only 43 per cent resulted in charges being laid, and of those cases, only half went to court and of those, 55 per cent led to convictions.
Around 50 per cent of those who did not report to police chose not to do so due to “the hassle, burden or belief that they would not see a positive outcome in the justice system.”
Struggling with the long-lasting effects of her assault, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression and body dysmorphia, Szocs decided to join a campus group called Justice for Women.
She spent three years with the organization, leading and coordinating consent culture workshops.
“After feeling so lost and alone for months, I found a community that allowed me to feel validated, supported and understood,” she said.
“My biggest priority was to expand that community as much as possible so that everyone else like me could realize they too weren’t alone.”
Attendees also heard from other speakers including Women of Colour Community Leadership Initiative president Jennifer Chen, Canadian Labour Congress president Bea Bruske, Two-Spirit Michif Local vice-chair Charlotte Nolin and Islamic Social Services Association co-founder Shahina Siddiqui.