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Why Reclaim the Night is so important to me

Wednesday 27-04-2016 - 14:40
Beth resized

*Content warning- Sexual assault, harassment and rape.*

I often struggle to explain to people just how much my feminism means to me, why attending marches like these have been so important over the past few years, and why this isn't just 'a walk around the streets talking about womens' stuff'.

I often don't try and explain, as I worry about making people feel uncomfortable, or being 'that girl'. But the last couple of years have really challenged me to feel proud of my politics, but also to recognise that if these stories stay behind closed doors, only the echo chamber in that room hears them, and the people who often need to hear these messages most never do.

So here's why I'll be out on the streets for Reclaim the Night on Friday:
A few years ago, I was followed home, harassed and then attacked after a night out. It took me a few weeks to really come to terms with what had happened, I was wary of going to the police, and it was only after having a panic attack in the middle of the University library after someone tapped me on the shoulder that I finally approached my personal tutor for help.

I'd kept quiet as I was ashamed. I genuinely believed that by choosing to walk home by myself, I was to blame. That the dress I had been wearing meant I had somehow deserved it. That it was my fault because I'd drunk too much.

I had listened to the constant stream of messages that society throws at us which tell us that when we are harassed, when we are attacked, when we are raped, that it is somehow our fault.

As women we are taught tactics to help us avoid these attacks- how many times do we walk home with keys between our fingers, a lit cigarette, or our hair tucked under a hat so it can’t be grabbed.

It took me far too long to stop blaming myself, and to understand that what happened did so not because of what I was wearing or where I walked, but because the man who did it decided to.

And it was a reclaim the night march three years ago that truly helped me to challenge my own perceptions, to understand that no woman is to blame for actions against them, and that our right to be safe should not depend on what we are wearing, or where we are walking.

Reclaim the night marches began in the 1970’s, as a response to the police’s advice given during the sexual assaults and attacks of ‘The Yorkshire ripper’. As police advised women should stay at home, take care and avoid being attacked, women took to the streets to show that no woman should be restricted or blamed for the violence they face.

These marches have since evolved to be a public demonstration against violence against women, and we still march for the same reasons women did on the first march in 1977- because women are still being attacked, are still being blamed for what happened, and our streets are still not safe.

I’m so proud to be marching on Friday, to reclaim our streets from violence, harassment and assault, to tackle sexism and the victim blaming culture we live in, and to reclaim the night.

So if you’re in the Cardiff area, I ask that you join us on Friday in solidarity with all of the women who have experienced street harassment and sexual violence, and to make sure their stories, and these issues, don’t simply stay behind closed doors.

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