Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Niagara Sexual Assault Centre’s Take Back the Night event will be held online for a second straight year.
“We started doing it in 1981 and this is unfortunately the second time we have had to do it virtually but I think it is going to be a good program,” said Donna Christie, the centre’s Public Education Coordinator. “But it’s just not the same when it isn’t done live.”
Pre-pandemic, the event, which advocates for an end to violence against women, featured speakers, inspirational music and a candlelight walk. Last year’s virtual event was an online celebration of what Take Back the Night has meant to the community over the years.
“It has been around for so many years and it means different things to different people,” Christie said.
The theme of this year’s event, scheduled for this Thursday, at 7 PM on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube, will involve speakers and activities for parents and youth on digital abuse.
“It’s because we have been online so long with Covid and also to bring some focus on the fact that abuse happens online and it always has but maybe a little bit more now,” Christie said. “As long as there is technology, there are ways to use it against people, particularly women and children. It has become a really easy and convenient way to abuse in different ways. We wanted to focus on that for the community.”
Canadian statistics show that six in ten girls have been harassed or abused online. Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform for sex traffickers, but other sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tiktok are also commonly used to find potential victims.
“With [human] trafficking a big focus for everyone this year it is the easiest way to lure and connect with victims and potential,” she said.
Christie has no doubt the disturbing online abuse statistics are valid.
“I would imagine it would have to be at least that in Niagara,” she said. “What I do personally here is education in elementary schools so I spent a lot of time with [Grade] 7s and 8s. Just listening to them and talking about it with them, it is at least that if not higher. I don’t want to throw numbers out there but whether it’s cyber-bullying or some form of sexual harassment online, it is really common and much more common than people realize.”
The centre is active in fighting the problem by educating the community.
“That the biggest way we can help and they can certainly call and get support from us whether that’s helping them to figure out whether they want to use the legal system or just get support for what has happened to them, especially for the younger kids,” Christie said.
This year’s Take Back the Night will include information about what children and teens can encounter playing video games and how to stay safe, general tips for women about staying safe in relationships if they have left an abusive relationship, how to stay safe online, human trafficking, what parents should look out for, and how to be helpful with their kids online.
“There will be something for everybody and it is a well-rounded program this year,” Christie said. “We are looking forward to it and we think we are going to bring a lot of information to the community, which is what we like to do with Take Back the Night.”
She is looking forward to the day when the event can return to normal.
“We miss doing it and it is a really special night. We walk around the streets downtown and it is for men and women, not just women. It is a symbolic way to state we have the right to be safe regardless of where we are,” Christie said. “It kind of made sense this year that we had to do it online but it also reminds people to be safe when they are online as well.”
For more information about the event, visit niagarasexualassaultcentre.com