On Friday October 27th Perth’s Reclaim the Night Organisation held the annual Reclaim The Night event in Russell Square; originally known as Take Back The Night. Reclaim The Night is held in over 30 countries globally each year, on the final Friday of the month of October. The purpose of the international event is for us women to come together to speak out, support one another, celebrate strength while doing our part in putting an end to domestic violence against women and children in all its evil forms.
Just a little bit of history for those who are unaware or who have never heard of Reclaim The Night / Take Back The Night. Take Back The Night marches and events date back to 1970; early Take Back the Night events include a protest in San Francisco against pornography in 1978. In this same year Australia held its first Reclaim The Night march. In October 1975 a Reclaim The Night march was held in Philadelphia after the murder of a microbiologist; Susan Alexander Speeth, who was stabbed to death while walking home alone.
In March 1976 a Reclaim The Night march was held in Belgium by the women attending the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women. Other marches were held in Rome in 1976 as a reaction to recently released rape statistics, in West Germany in 1977 where women demanded the right to move freely in their communities at day and night without harassment and sexual assault. In 1977 Reclaim The Night rallies were held in 11 towns in England in response to the Yorkshire Ripper murders. In 2006 a Reclaim the Night march was organised in Ipswich as a response to the murders of five prostitutes.
The mission of Take Back the Night has since grown to encompass all forms of violence against all, though sexual violence against women is still the top focus. The word night was originally meant to be taken literally to express the fear that many women feel during the night but has since changed to symbolise violence in general. Women are often told to be extra careful and take precautions when going out at night. In some parts of the world even until TODAY, women are not allowed out at night. So when women struggle for freedom, we must start at the beginning by fighting for freedom of movement.
A few months ago I had the pleasure of being asked by Drina Markovic to be one of the selected Guest Speaker’s for this year’s Reclaim The Night rally held in my home town; Perth Western Australia. I remember I was at the airport after just touching down from South Africa and jumping for joy saying YES immediately. Here was my chance to be a part of an event I feel so strongly about and getting the chance to share some of my story, in order to help women who are either still in a domestic violence relationship or whom have just recently escaped from one. I wanted the women to know that you CAN go through such trauma, have your life changed dramatically and STILL overcome it and become a stronger, happier person than you had ever been before. I was living PROOF of this amongst many other women who attended the event the same night.
That Friday I finished work and made my way to Russell Square feeling super excited, anxious and passionate for how the night was going to unfold. I was greeted by Drina and instantly my nerves calmed down and I felt at ease once I started meeting some of the other women. It was so beautiful to see children, teenagers and women of all ages coming together to help set up for the event, bringing with them signs they had made for the march and bringing with them friends / family members to participate in the march. Seeing this instantly made me feel very emotional and overwhelmed; the thought that so many women in one place felt so strongly about domestic violence against women and children and had made the time to come out and show their support for women in our community. It’s nice for women to know they have a good support network available should they need it, instead of feeling alone with no one to turn to. As women we must uplift one another and in cases like domestic violence it’s often easier to talk to another woman outside of your circle as opposed to family and/or friends.
Shortly after the event commenced with a few lovely live performances followed by 3 guest speakers; Dorinda Cox, Caitlin Roper and myself, with Lyn Maclaren as the MC for the night. The speeches definitely moved the crowd and tears were shared amongst many of the women. We were angry, we were upset and we were ready to MARCH! The purpose of the march is to speak out against the violence and raise community awareness as a preventative measure against future violence on children and women. We made our way marching from Russell Square down James street through to the Perth Cultural Centre chanting louder and louder as we progressed People were watching with curiosity, others were cheering us on, but one thing for sure we definitely got our message out there loud and clear and we stood in solidarity.
What we did that night, protesting and standing up for women in our community as well as all women worldwide was moving, but it isn’t enough. Protesting annually is not going to prevent domestic violence, nor would protesting more regularly say every 3 months. As Lynn Maclaren said, “We don’t have the numbers because the media FAILS us. We will never not have a Reclaim the Night, we will continue to rally until the night is ours”. However if we as women can all come together more than once or twice a year to take a stand against domestic violence on innocent women and children, we CAN have our voices heard and we CAN do our best and try our hardest, to make a change.
A huge thank you to the Perth Reclaim the Night Committee; Drina, Ari, Ava, Caitlin, Fraser, Laura, Liz & Wendy. A huge thank you to Delphine & Bliss for coming out to show their support to me and to all women.
Below is my speech from the Reclaim the Night Perth event.
Good evening ladies my name is Natasha Toffa. I am the Founder of Women’s Unity Movement, I am a passionate Fashion & Social Change blogger and I am happily married to the love of my life.
Rewind to 12 years ago when I was 19 years old, the person you are looking at today, standing confidently and strong in front of you, would be unrecognizable to the person I was back then. I was 5 years into my first relationship with the man who I thought was my soul mate, my happily ever after. I had no idea how quick the “perfect relationship” I thought I was in, would transform into the toxic rollercoaster that my life now become.
We started dating when I was 14 and of course it was the perfect high school love. He was adored and loved by my friends and family, he seemed to be such a gentleman. The first incident of abuse I received from my ex was when I was 15 years old being kicked in my chin and being punched in the stomach. The reason being-I was supposedly looking at a group of guys; but really they were a group my ex and I knew. I cried he apologised and promised never to do it again; I of course believed him.
A year later it was my year 12 ball and I copped a side punch to my jaw, just because a fight broke out near us while we were standing in a taxi line. This time the incident was in public and a few others in the line saw what just happened and went off at him for touching me. I remember trying my hardest not to cry even though the pain was excruciating. Not because I was embarrassed, but because I didn’t want my ex to get in trouble. How stupid of me, for STILL caring about HIS wellbeing first.
From this point the abuse starting to reoccur more often, whenever we had a fight he would constantly throw in my face- how many better looking girls he could get or that he could have so many girls and play around, why should he have to just settle with me. Shortly after I was diagnosed with PCOS and the verbal abuse got worse. As I started gaining weight from the small size 10 he met me as because of my ovary problem, I was constantly told how ugly from head to toe I was and that I was useless if I wouldn’t be able to conceive children. My self-esteem at this point was already rock bottom because of my body changes and the way he bullied me. I was constantly in the gym, eating healthy, changing my hairstyle every few weeks, always buying new clothes to wear to impress him, but none of it was good enough.
He knew I was weak and he knew he could control me; I would do whatever he asked of me. I was only allowed to go to and from work and the duration of how long it took me to get to either destination, was timed. If I reached home some minutes later I was accused of sleeping around or questioned about my whereabouts for those 5-15 minutes, no consideration of traffic and I would receive a punch or two. From cutting off my family, cutting off my friends, I was made to believe that I wouldn’t need them because he was “enough”.
Whenever he was stressed out from work, or family drama I was his punching bag. I have had objects thrown at me, objects used to harm me and my body, I have been tortured in ways I never would want any female to experience. Whenever he wanted sexual pleasures I had to do it, regardless of how I was made to feel about the way I looked, nor how depressed I was, if I said no it was forced upon me. As I started to hate him I started to hate myself even more. Maybe I was just a useless, unwanted female, maybe this was as good as my life was going to get. But one day I FINALLY realised my worth and made my plans to escape. It wasn’t easy, I had to play his games, but in the end, regardless of leaving with nothing, not much money to my name, I gained so much more and I gained my FREEDOM.
Ladies remember you are NEVER alone, even if you feel as though there’s no one you can turn to and talk to, there are so many organisations in Perth and globally that can help you. My one regret is never speaking out and keeping everything bottled inside, as this slowed down my process of becoming the real me, dramatically. I’ll finish this with an important reminder and something that I live by. When you feel like you are at a breaking point, that you have dealt with more than you can possibly bare, remember we are never given more than we can physically handle. Don’t give up, there is always light at the end of the tunnel and your time to shine & blossom WILL come, have patience.