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Take Back The Night Vancouver 1997 – Speech by Tamara Gorin

Vancouver Art Gallery

We are here tonight because of the continuing and sometimes relentless violent attacks on women by men. Mostly it is men we know, love and trust thatare violent to us. We cannot begin to deal with these betrayals for a long time and even after the torn and bruised skin of our bodies is healed, it is hard to fathom why they hurt us like this. And for those of us who are attacked by strangers, the same is true. We still ask Why? How? What possesses them?

Well, we know that within patriarchy there are tactics that a man can use to uphold himself and other men to ensure that the power they hold over women continues. Violence is one of the available tactics. Between men, it is understood that if they can’t win a bit of power and control over each other, there is always a woman or a child who he has legitimate right to terrorize and brutalize. His wife, his daughter, his secretary, his student, his co-worker, a woman on the bus, a woman walking in the street ahead of him.

Over the summer and into this month there were a lot of public cases of violence against women. But there are others and it is very difficult to analyze what’s news and what’s not. You have to pay very close attention and use everything you know about what happens to women when we are beaten and raped and killed to sort out what they are telling us and yet not talking about.

For instance, when Cassandra Antoine was raped, beaten, burned and left to die in Richmond, the police released the details of her death to the media. And then there was nothing. Still, there is nothing. After almost 4 months, they have not told us whether they have found this or these men. I suspect that after the initial investigation, the file was put aside, inactive. You cannot but help but wonder at the difference between the response to this woman’s death and to Tanya Smith’s. No Native woman, no prostitute that I know of has ever had the attention paid to the importance of the loss of her life do when white women are killed. This must change!


Another thing that stuck me immediately was that the attack on Cassandra Antoine was exactly the same as the attack on another woman last year. The police got those men. They have been charged. That meant that this attack was done by another man. What the criminologists call a “copy cat” attack. And no one, not the police, not the media, not the crown council on the original case said this. Nothing was done to act to protect all the other women.

Cassandra Antoine was presumably prostituting, WORKING, when she was killed. Misty Cockerill and Tanya Smith were walking home late at night. Women’s lives are put up to the scrutinty of public morality. What we do falls all along the continuum of what is inappropriate and appropriate behaviour. God forbid we should have a life. It is difficult for any woman to get free from some amount of blame. Last week, in the trial of Terry Driver, Misty was forced to reveal, that she was mad and frustrated that Tanya did not choose to fight back physically. The violence of one man separated two young women in the last moment they would ever see each other. The violence of another still unknown mansplits the rest of us from Cassandra. The thing is, nothing any of these women did was wrong. As Misty Cockerill said at Take Back the Night in Abbotsford on Thursday night, they each had every right to do what they were doing, and no matter what they were doing it does not excuse the men who raped beaten and murdered them.

Also this summer, the Abbotsford police chose to do a big media bru-ha-ha and release the names of several men they caught in a “shame the johns” campaign. The media has consistently decided not to print the names of men who are caught in such campaigns, and true to form, they only printed the name of the man already convicted of sexual assault.

We oppose this tactic on several fronts. First and foremost is that prostitutes, prostitutes rights groups and women’s groups fighting alongside them have consistently told the cops and the community activists who initiate shame the johns campaigns that they do not work. The prostitutes in Abbotsford were not asked for their opinion of the police tactic. The women’s group in Abbotsford was not informed either. Also, the police and the media demonstrated a disturbing level of sexism in the days leading up to the release of these men’s names. Every male columnist that did a story talked about the beautiful female cop luring the hapless men to their doom, while the actual women working as prostitutes went about the business of getting high, living hard and possibly presently public health threat. There was little public outcry about this. No one except Sheri Graydon even seriously considered the lives of the women, or discussed the real implications for every woman’s life that some of us still must sell our bodies to make money, and that men keep on buying.

And the women in Toronto. They were arrested and are mostly still being held because they were in Canada illegally, and forced into working as prostitutes, what the media is calling a “sex-slave ring.” These are real women, I suspect mostly desperate and definitely tricked. They did not come to Canada to be criminals and truly, they are not. Our government has signed several international agreements calling for the end of trafficking of women, and they must act to honour them.

Arrest the pimps.

But release these women!

A woman in Maple Ridge was raped as she went to the train station to check the times the train into the city would leaving the next morning. She did all of the things the police tell us we should do, and that she honestly believed she should do to take care of herself. She called the police immediately. She went to the hospital to see to her health, and cooperate with the police for forensic evidence. She told people right away. The police took a composite drawing right away. But then, without her permission, without telling her, they released the details of her attack to the local media. The media cop and the journalist cooperated with each other to blame her by saying in that article and every one after that women must not go walking alone at night. If we do, he said, we are asking for it. Men will attack us. Kathy did not stand for this and contacted the newspaper, the Ridge-Meadows Women’s Centre and Rape Relief. She helped organize TBTN in Maple Ridge and is on the streets with the women there right now.

Another woman who called Rape Relief is with us tonight. Sarah received shabby treatment from the Burnaby RCMP. She took a well deserved break from parenting her toddler and went for a walk in a nearby park. It was the middle of the afternoon. She was raped. She waited a bit before contacting the police, but once she did, she cooperated and has done everything she can to help the police conduct their investigation.

They have returned the favour by lying to her, refusing her suggestions, referring her to an ineffective and powerless victim’s services worker, putting her off, passing her between cops, barely accusing her of lying, and refusing to publish the composite she had to fight for a month to make them do. Now I ask you, what good is a composite if it is not available to the public?

Didn’t we this year have the results of the inquiry into what the hell the police in Southern Ontario were doing about Paul Bernardo? Wasn’t it clear that if the police had shared information between each other, including the composites and descriptions given by several women, that they would have got this man before he raped and killed several women and wrecked Karla Holmolka’s life too? The Vancouver Police and the Abbotsford police and increasingly more local RCMP detachments are holding daily meetings with the media. How about meeting with other cops instead? That’s my recommendation. Teleconference guys. Use your fax machines. Talk and communicate with each other before these men have a chance to attack another woman. Because as Terry Driver has revealed, and we know about Paul Bernardo, they do and they will.

And in still another frustrating example of the justice system not working to protect women from violent men, we now know that prior to killing Heidi Challant and her children, David John Gordon had attempted to kill his wife Goergette in 1983. He was convicted of assault on that charge. The question being debated is whether or not men who are dangerous to women should be tracked by the justice system as a means to keep the next woman in his life safe. The answer in this and most other situations is no. First of all we have a Charter of Rights which protects all of us from the state being so heavy handed in our lives. As hard as it is to keep believing this, it is important that we do not give in on this point. Secondly, if the crown council had brought forth and stuck with an attempted murder charge in 1983 – slashing somebody’s neck with a knife is attempted murder – then David Gordon would only be now be eligible for parole. And Heidi would be alive. Innumerable battered women cannot get crown council to lay an assault charge, let alone attempted murder. Vancouver crown council’s routinely take all of the information about threats and attacks and ongoing harrassment and apply for Section 810 peace bonds instead of charging men with the innumerable criminal offences they have committed against the women in their lives. The solution is not to track them but the application of the laws as they exist. Charge men with the criminal offence they commit.

In time I have worked at Rape Relief, so many women have told me variations of what happened to these women. But more often then not, the cops are not even part of the picture. I do not say to women,”Do not go to the police” Rather, they say to me, “I will not use the police.” They say that because of past sexist treatment on themselves and women in their lives. Because they understand the attack on us in the seemingly benign safety tip issued from Anne Drennan and other cop’s mouths on the evening news. The police and the justice system still do not quite comprehend the indictment of their work that the vast majority of women refusing to use them represents.

Instead, we create alternative means to fight back. We call rape crisis centres and transition houses, we poster our neighbourhoods, we tell each other on the bathroom walls. We write letters to family members. Confront him directly when we can. We organize and come to Take Back the Night.

All of these alternative methods of holding men to account are called vigilantism by the cops and other men who are scared by what our activity could mean to them.

WRONG! Creative and thoughtful and angry and fed up women do these things. And we teach each other to do them. Just this past month women on my block in East Vancouver postered the entire neighbour with the description of the man who was harassing them, his car, his behavoiur and the cops response. When I saw that poster I was not scared. I was relieved and pleased with these women.

Women’s action like these provide the chance for community response and accountability. There’s a chance that men with less power will end up stomped on by a justice system that refuses to hold most men accountable for their violence on women. Less Native and working class men end up in jail and more white middle class men are exposed as the rapists and batterers they are. I am not arguing for women not to use use system with men who are dangerous to them. I am saying that sometimes not using the police and courts works just as effectively for men who have the will to change.

My mother never called the police on my father and neither did I. We did not wish jail upon him. We just wanted him to stop being such an asshole. A lot of people knew what he was doing. And no one told him to stop. I now understand, four years after his unnecessary death that he would be even more broken then he already was by the jails, that he would have refused to get it that he was there because of what he did to us. That he would have got out sooner than later and then even more full of the hate and fear that drives men such as him. This is the man that reinforced my fear of other men while keeping close tabs on my behaviour with violence and fear tactics. I carry that fear of other with me every night I walk alone. A man with nothing except a wasted intellect, the small fiefdom of his family and just barely enough money to pretend there was the possibility of more in his life and yes in mine, this man did his part to reinforce my role in this world as a woman. But my head is held high. I stand here tonight partly because of my mother’s small rebellions, partly because though my father was a misogynist, he was also a unionist so I learned from his small rebellions too. But mostly I am here because of my own refusal to submit and the examples given to me by women I found after I got the hell out of there.

We require the police and crown councils to do their jobs. When we come to you, do not treat us like inconveniences. Treat us with respect and investigate our cases. Charge him appropriately. Do not treat our advocates and support system with suspicion. Understand that we require each other’s presence until we can be 100% sure of your good will and action on our behalf.

We also require response in our communities when we choose to go public and name and act against men’s violent behaviour in other ways. These ways are legitimate and useful. Men do stop when their neighbours find out and tell them they know and will act to protect the women and children but also will work with them to MAKE THEM stop. My father would have. My brother did. Men of conscience must stand up for the tactics of women. Tell the cops we are not vigilantes and tell the men you know to stop it. Stop raping us, battering us, buying us, killing us. Our lives are at stake and we will not be satisfied until this march is no longer necessary.

With that, I join with all of you who are here with me tonight, refusing to submit, Taking Back the Night!!!

Read Also

The women were conducting Take Back the Night, a direct action to take over city streets calling for freedom from rape, freedom from prostitution and livable welfare on demand.

By Terry Picard
November 2004

"We wanted to take back a space off limits to women...instead of telling women they should stay away in order to be safe, we wanted women to be here and be safe.”

September 2005

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