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What is Take Back the Night?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Take Back the Night is a feminist event which begins with a rally including speeches and performances and concludes with a march and candlelight vigil. In the United States and Europe, local Take Back the Night events on college campuses and city-wide are organized year round to highlight the issue of violence against women. For participants, the event can be inspiring, educational, and empowering, and it is hoped that observers come away from the experience with more empathy for women's issues.

The roots of Take Back the Night can be found in 1976, when women took to the streets of Belgium in a Reclaim the Night March. The women were angry about the rising incidence of rape and violence against women, and wanted to symbolically reclaim the night, shedding light on a serious issue and also asserting their right to move safely and freely at night. The women marched with candles and held a rally which included speeches by prominent women's rights activists, and other European cities quickly followed suit.

In the United States, the first recognized Take Back the Night March occurred in San Francisco in 1978, when activists marched through the Tenderloin, where the majority of strip clubs and adult entertainment businesses are located. Many of those activists were protesting against porn specifically and violence against women in general, in the belief that pornographic materials were degrading to women. Activists in other American communities sponsored other Take Back the Night Marches as well, and many of these local marches are held on an annual basis.

When held annually, the goal of a Take Back the Night rally and march is to educate people about violence against women. Women are more likely to be victims of rape and domestic violence, and these issues are often not discussed in popular society. The marches force observers to confront the issues, and hopefully encourage a culture which will not tolerate violence against women. Some of these marches are restricted to women only, while others recognize the harm caused by the cycle of violence, and address the issue of violence for all people, not just women, welcoming men and children into the Take Back the Night march as well.

On occasion, a community may also hold a Take Back the Night march in response to a specific incident, such as a string of violent sex crimes. These marches tend to take the form of vigils, and include more memorializing for specific victims, rather than women in general. The primary intent, of getting the population to think about the issue of violence in their community, remains the same.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By pleonasm — On Jan 08, 2014

@irontoenail - I hope these sorts of events spread to other countries as well. I don't know if there is a country in the world at the moment where all it's citizens can feel safe walking around their streets at night, but I feel like this should be something that is a priority for everyone.

By irontoenail — On Jan 07, 2014

@clintflint - I also just think it's important for women to feel more empowered by going to these sorts of things and participating in Take Back the Night chants and other activities. I know that I had never really thought about the fact that I will automatically cross the road if I see a man coming towards me in the evening.

It just seemed like something I did because I was a bit of a coward, rather than a sane reaction to the treatment of women in the world.

Being able to walk down the street at night, surrounded by allies and friends and know that you are safe and supported can do wonders for your self esteem and pride.

By clintflint — On Jan 06, 2014

I think these kinds of events are very important because I don't think people who haven't experienced the kind of fear that a single woman walking by herself at night experiences can understand what it's like. And a rally like this can help to enlighten people.

Unfortunately I think that the people who perpetrate violence against women aren't going to be the ones who are reached by these events.

Still I hope that they can gradually lower levels of abuse against women and everyone really, by raising some awareness among others in the community.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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