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Take Back the Night History

The first Take Back the Night in Hamilton was in 1981.

In 2011, for our thirtieth anniversary we interviewed folks who had been around at the first TBTN and folks who have joined us in the past couple of years.

Click on the following links to check out interviews with:

Over 30 Years of Progress
The first Take Back the Night event in the United States for which we have received documentation took place in Philadelphia in October of 1975. Citizens of Philadelphia rallied together after the murder of young microbiologist, Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed by a stranger a block from her home while walking alone. The first Take Back the Night abroad for which we have received documentation occurred at The International Tribunal on Crimes against Women. The Tribunal took place March 4 through 8, 1976 in Brussels, Belgium. Two thousand women representing 40 countries attended the event. These were the first documented Take Back the Night marches, which occurred as a candlelight procession through the streets of Philadelphia in 1975 and Brussels in 1976.

In other parts of Europe, Take Back the Night began under a different name. After the Tribunal, Reclaim the Night arose in Rome in 1976. That year in Rome, there were a reported 16,000 rapes, and this fueled Reclaim the Night. The movement leapt from Rome to West Germany where women were harassed and assaulted both day and night; they held their first Reclaim the Night on April 30, 1977. International interest in the movement began to grow. The next city to hold a Reclaim the Night event was Leeds, England in November 1977.

The East end of London became infamous from the “Jack the Ripper” killings in the late 1800s. Jack the Ripper murdered at least five women at night, and all were prostitutes. No one was ever charged with the crimes. There was never a safe feeling for women walking alone a night, even before the slayings. Women were attacked on the street in broad daylight, and domestic violence was widely accepted. Then another “Ripper” emerged from the shadows. On July 4,1975 the “Yorkshire Ripper,” Peter Sutcliffe, attacked his first victim. Because both he and Jack the Ripper raped and killed or attacked prostitutes at night, this alias emerged. On May 22, 1981, Peter Sutcliffe was convicted of killing thirteen women and severely beating seven others. During this time, the police encouraged all women to stay indoors at night for their own safety. Outraged, the women of Leeds, England held their first Reclaim the Night event in 1977 in response to these murders and the public’s reaction.

Outside of Europe, Australia and India were also hosting Reclaim the Night events. Australia’s first event was in 1978 to protest abortion and contraception. In Bombay, India, women participated in the first Reclaim the Night in March 1978 after a pregnant woman was gang raped.

Across the Atlantic, the women of North America were not keeping silent. New York held the first North American march for women in 1976; however, it wasn’t until 1977 that the slogan “Take Back the Night” was introduced by Anne Pride as the title of a memorial she read at an anti-violence rally in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1978, marchers in San Francisco used “Take Back the Night” as their slogan during a protest against pornography. Over the last 30 years in the United States, Take Back the Night has returned its focus to eliminating sexual violence in all forms, and thousands of colleges, universities, women’s centers, and rape crisis centers have sponsored events all over the country.

Canadahas also seen its share of sexual violence against women. As a result, Canadian women had their first march for women in 1978 in Vancouver, British Columbia, organized by the “Fly-By-Night Collective”. The Vancouver Rape Relief held Take Back the Night marches from 1980-1985. In 1981, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers declared the third Friday of September the evening for Take Back the Night marches nationwide.

Thirty-three years ago, women started to stand up and speak out against sexual violence under the banner of Take Back the Night. During those years, Take Back the Night became known internationally as a visible way to take a stand against sexual violence, specifically violence against women.

Hope for the Future
Women from New York to India are letting their voices shatter the silence, but there is much to be accomplished in the fight to end sexual violence. Crimes of this nature continue to appear in the news in epidemic proportions. Our movies, our music, and daily news describe another killing, shooting; more abuse, violence and rape. As the history of Take Back the Night continues to be written, its mission to end sexual violence for all remains a beacon of hope for the millions affected by crimes of violence. We have made great strides, but our march is far from over.


Used with permission from Take Back the Night Foundation –

This resource developed with the generous support of the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
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