By Daniel Velásquez / M.I.A. / GPDN
While in London, U.K visitng a friend, I had the luck to bump into the beginning of a march to celebrate the International Day to End Violence Against Women, with an emphasis on rape and male violence against women. The event was organized by the London Feminist Network.
Why the March
According to the British Crime Survey (2001) there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults. Yet our conviction rate is the lowest it has ever been, one of the lowest in Europe, at only 5.3%. This means that more rapists were convicted in the 1970s when Reclaim The Night marches first started than they are now. Did you know that the maximum sentence possible for rape is life imprisonment? Probably not, because rarely are rapists even reported or convicted, let alone with a realistic sentence. This situation has to change.
We march to demand justice for rape survivors.
A recent survey by the young women’s magazine More in 2005 found that 95% of women don’t feel safe on the streets at night, and 65% don’t even feel safe during the day. 73% worry about being raped and almost half say they sometimes don’t want to go out because they fear for their own safety.
In every sphere of life we negotiate the threat or reality of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment. We cannot claim equal citizenship while this threat restricts our lives as it does. We demand the right to use public space without fear. We demand this right as a civil liberty, we demand this as a human right.
The Reclaim The Night march gives women a voice and a chance to reclaim the streets at night on a safe and empowering event. We aim to put the issue of our safety on the agenda for this night and every day.
The Reclaim The Night marches started in the UK in the 1970s. In America they are known as ‘Take Back The Night’ and the first one was held in West Germany on April 30th 1977. In Britain they first began on 12th November 1977 when marches took place in Leeds, Manchester, Bristol, London and many other cities. The Reclaim the Night marches became even more significant when, in following years, a man called Peter Sutcliffe began murdering prostitute women in and around Leeds. Feminists in the area were angry that the police response to these murders was slow and that the press barely reported on them. It seemed that it was only when young student women began to fall victim to this serial killer that the police started to take the situation seriously. Their response was to warn all women not to go out at night. This was not a helpful suggestion for any woman, let alone for those women involved in prostitution who often had no choice about whether they went out at night or not. Feminists and a variety of women’s and student groups were angered by this response. So they organised a resistance of torch-lit marches and demonstrations — they walked in their hundreds through the city streets at night to highlight that they should be able to walk anywhere and that they should not be blamed or restricted because of male violence.
Over the years the marches evolved to focus on rape and male violence generally, giving women one night when they could feel safe to walk the streets of their own towns and cities.
You may read more about LFN and Reclaim the Night 2009 at http://www.reclaimthenight.org/why.html.