09/04/2012 02:53 EDT

Christie Pits Rally: Hundreds Gather In Toronto To Protest Sexual Assaults

Devon Murphy

TORONTO -- Last night at Christie Pits, hundreds of people gathered with one clear focus – stopping rape culture in their community. The event, organized by social activists Farrah Khan, Anni Spadafora and Liz Brockest was a call to action based on the recent string of sexual assaults in the nearby area.

Though organized mainly on Facebook and through word of mouth, a large and spirited crowd gathered at the park at 7 p.m., including many local politicians.

Cheri DiNovo, MPP for Parkdale and High-Park spoke passionately about her 45 years of “taking back the night,” and her desire to see a safer world for her grandchildren.

“What I’m really here to say is, ‘you’re not alone,’” she said in an interview. “This is not about the way a woman dresses, or about the way a woman looks. We don’t ask men what they were wearing, we don’t ask men to stay off the streets at night. We shouldn’t have to do it for our daughters.”

Other prominent local politicians included NDP MPP Jonah Schein and Mike Layton, councillor of the ward in which the attacks occurred. Layton spoke to the crowd about the White Ribbon Campaign, an initiative begun by his father, Jack Layton, to end male violence against women.

The rally comes just days after Toronto mayor Rob Ford's niece's tweeted out advice on how to avoid sexual assault. "“Stay alert, walk tall, carry mace, take self-defence classes & don’t dress like a whore," she wrote in a tweet that was taken down, and for which she later apologized.

Many of the gatherers had only just heard about the event before making their way down to show support. “These are our streets, this is our community, we shouldn’t have to feel unsafe or like we’re being targeted when we’re walking home,” said Melissa Lepp, 23, in an interview.

“If this is going to bring a lot of people out saying, ‘Hey, I don’t like this,’ I want to be counted with that,” said another protestor, Kjell Cawsey, 26.

After some rousing speeches, the organizers led the crowd out of the park and into the streets. The chant, “They say ‘stay home,’ we say ‘fight back!’” was heard loud and clear as the crowd marched through the neighbourhood and down College St., garnering attention from the patio-goers.

With hundreds of attendees and widespread media coverage, the message rang out loud and clear: Rape culture? Not if they have anything to do with it.

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