Take Back the Night has been an annual protest for more than 30 years. Typically held in September, the first march was held in Philadelphia, in October 1975. Susan Alexander Speeth, a young microbiologist, was walking alone one night and stabbed only a block away from her home. Organizers led a candle lit march through the streets shortly after. In 1976, after the International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women in Brussels, thousands of women from more than 40 different countries marched in the streets.
In the United States and Europe, Reclaim the Night protests continued to pop up throughout the 1970s, usually rallying around a publicized case of violence against women. The first march in Canada was held in 1978, by an ad-hoc group known as the Fly By Night Collective organized in Vancouver on unceded Coast Salish Territory. Throughout the 1980s, Take Back the Night was organized by Canada’s first rape crisis centre, Vancouver Rape Relief. In 1981, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres declared the third Friday of September the evening for Take Back the Night marches nation wide.
The pervasive rates of sexual assault and rape have always been a rallying point for organizers of Take Back the Night. The march is meant to show that women and folks normally at the highest risk of violence at night can reclaim the streets as their own. Historically, the march has been limited to cis women, with cis men being encouraged to either march at the back or take on childcare, meal preparation on other “behind the scenes” duties so that cis women have the freedom to march. However, many marches now recognize the rate of violence also experienced by queer, 2 spirit and trans people as well and seek to actively include people of all genders other than cis men.
However, there have also been changes in some organizing responding to criticism that Take Back the Night is a settler’s concept of protest based in a colonial discourse. Take Back the Night Toronto has started to “decolonize gender” by allowing indigenous cis men to march and including issues of environmental justice and land sovereignty.