Whose streets? Our streets! Bristol students Reclaim the Night
Published on November 21, 2014 by Emily Faint
Bristol saw over five hundred people take to the streets on Friday 7 November, in order to protest against the continuing presence of sexual harassment and violence against women. Reclaim the Night is an international movement which rejects a victim-blaming culture that teaches women to stay off the streets and to never walk home alone at night, if they are to avoid sexual assault.
After a moment of silence in memory of victims of rape, the Bristol march began in Queen Square, near the city centre, at 6pm with a candlelit vigil to remember survivors of rape and sexual abuse, followed by a poem written and read by one protester. The crowd, led by Alice Phillips and other Union officers, then marched from Queen Square to the Students’ Union building in Clifton, making lots of noise with whistles, tambourines and chants such as ‘whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no’.
‘I can’t believe I still have to protest this sh**’
The march was organised by Students’ Union Equality, Liberation and Access Officer Alice Philips. When asked for her reasons in organising the event, Phillips told Epigram that ‘at the time when I was writing my manifesto there had recently been several rapes and sexual assaults in Clifton and the city centre. I felt that it was so important to bring Reclaim the Night back to Bristol to give people the chance to protest against the sexual violence happening on our streets. The march was a great success, over 500 people marched to reclaim the night – up from about 200 at the last march in Bristol in 2011.’
Phillips also mentioned the great feedback she has received since, some women who attended the march have described it on Twitter as being ‘incredible’, ‘beautiful’, ‘cathartic’, ‘empowering’ and ‘uplifting’. The march also raised £173.31 for Kinergy, a professional counselling service for survivors of sexual abuse and rape.
Hattie Stamp, the president of UBU’s Feminist Society, told Epigram such protests were critical to promoting awareness and resistance on the issues involved. ‘Reclaim the Night is important because a lot of people don’t want to admit that the UK has a problem with rape culture and street harassment, and the marches show that there is a problem and that we are taking a public stand to tackle it. I think the event was very successful with over 500 people braving the cold and rain to take part, and it was very empowering for everyone involved.’
This march was not, however, an isolated event. Reclaim the Night, formerly known as Take Back the Night, can be traced back over fifty years to its European origins, where all-women councils convened to discuss street safety at night. Since taking what was the title of a memorial read by Anne Pride at a 1977 rally in Pittsburgh, the Take Back the Night cause gained momentum across North America, with rallies in San Francisco and Vancouver, protesting against issues from domestic abuse to pornography.
In a similar vein, the Hollaback! organisation was founded in the US in 2005 to fight against the widespread culture of street harassment, by encouraging victims to publicly document and blog about their experiences, a concept also employed by the famously successful The Everyday Sexism Project created by Laura Bates in 2012.
Due to this increasing prominence of the fight against sexual violence, Reclaim the Night can, in 2014, boast establishments not just across Europe and North America, but even as far as Australia. Despite the distance between each branch, all, in liaison with similar organisations, are united under the aim to put sexual violence against women firmly in the past.
Rowan Miller, director of Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS, formerly Bristol Rape Crisis) at this year’s Reclaim the Night declared that victims are often forced to endure waiting lists of up to 18 months for counselling services, such is the enormity of this issue. Events like Reclaim the Night are really important as they raise awareness and can help bring about what is a far overdue conclusion to this problem.
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