I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life and since I was sixteen, I’ve felt safe walking home at night. In fact, walking alone at night in this city is one of my greatest pleasures.

Several times a week, I will often zig-zag my way from midtown to the west end. I love how my route takes me through such a diverse array of neighbourhoods like Forest Hill, The Annex and Little Italy. I walk without music so that I can hear the distinct sounds of each neighbourhood. I have favourite streets that peacefully wind; I enjoy peering into windows of old Victorians and imagine the life stories that unfold behind the red bricks. For me, walking at night is both my exercise and a form of quiet meditation. It is where I reflect on my weekly to do list, contemplate relationships and a cherished time when my best ideas are born. On streets like Poplar Plains, Palmerston and Howland, I listen to bicycles glide by and often stop to to say hello to a friendly cat. These quiet interactions are almost magical and remind me of how lucky I am to live in a city with walkable neighbourhoods. But with the recent sexual assaults in the Bloor & Christie neighbourhood (three this past weekend) walking home alone at night has become a genuine fear.

Last March, I was physically assaulted at the corner of Bloor and Spadina when a man smacked me in the face and stole my iPhone. It was startling, I was rattled but, minus a sore mouth, I walked away unscathed. What shocked me the most was that it was 10 pm, at a major intersection, and the streets were busy with people. This violent confrontation was scary but it didn’t deter me from continuing to walk the streets after dusk. It did, however, force me to behave a bit differently. I no longer chat on my phone in that area and am a little more alert to my surroundings. On the whole, I still felt safe. But the recent sexual assaults are of a different nature and they are frightening. No matter how confident we are in our stride or how alert we may be, if there is a violent sexual offender on the loose targeting women, repeatedly, we aren’t safe. I don’t accept this reality.

This Friday, the community will gather at Christie Pits at 8 pm to show support for the women who have been assaulted, and to let it be known that we will not tolerate this. Hopefully, by uniting and taking action, we will put more pressure on the local police to up their game and find this offender. For full details on the walk route, see the Facebook event page. It’s time to take back the neighbourhood we love so that we can, once again, feel safe.

Please take caution when walking at night and avoid walking alone if you can. With an offender like this roaming the streets, there’s no shame in taking a cab even a few blocks.

~ Jen McNeely