Photo by Thom Leigh
The overarching sentiment behind Friday's rally against the string of sexual assaults in the Christie Pits area was summed up loudest -- if not politest -- by percussion group Rhythms of Resistance. As they, and about 250 other concerned citizens, wound their way down the residential streets where 12 recent attacks on women took place, they chanted: "If you fuck with us, we're going to fuck you up."
While most demonstrators took a less pointed angle on the issue, the message was clear: it's not women walking alone at night that's the problem, but the behaviour that had left many in fear. A suspect, believed to be behind all of the incidents, is sneaking up behind women walking alone in the late evening, sexually assaulting them, and then running away. Nine similar assaults took place in August and three more were reported over Thanksgiving weekend.
Organized by masters student Rebecca Mallinson -- who often runs in the neighbourhood -- the march was meant both to support the women of the area and as a show of strength against the so-called pervert.
"It's a message to the women that we're here in solidarity, but also a message to whoever is doing this.. that they're not going to get away with it," she said, noting she's been scared enough by the reports that she no longer runs near the park at night. "That makes me feel angry because it's my city too."
But at the front of the large group, the normally introverted Mallinson seemed confident, leading marchers past the sites of eight of the 12 assaults. Passing through some of the poorly-lit streets, the sheer darkness on many of the sidewalks was hard to ignore. On the section of Montrose Avenue south of Bloor Street, where two consecutive Thanksgiving weekend attacks took place, there were significant stretches with very low visibility and plenty of dark stretches.
"Porch lights on! Porch lights on!" yelled chant-leader and anti-violence activist Anna Willats into a megaphone, getting results from a few local residents along the way. "They say stay home, we say fight back! They say walk with somebody, we say fight back!"
Others gracing the event included Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow and local councillor Mike Layton, who was handing out flyers encouraging men to get involved in the discussion about stopping violence against women. For her part, Chow encouraged women to learn to defend themselves and not let the incidents terrify them into living in fear.
"If you need to go anywhere, just do it," she told a group assembled at the base of the park after the walk. "Let's get this guy arrested. Wouldn't that be nice?"
But not everyone seemed convinced that going about their business alone at night near Christie Pits is the best way of showing defiance. March participant Amanda Hiebert said that if it weren't to support the event, she probably wouldn't be in the area -- much like she dreaded returning home to Parkdale last year during a string of random assaults in that neighbourhood.
Echoing the thoughts of many at the march and who live in the area, Hiebert said she's angry at what seems like one person holding a whole neighbourhood hostage.
"Not only are 12 women feeling unsafe, hundreds or thousands are," she added. "That's ridiculous."