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Student Blogs: Reclaim the Night – why did it start?

Reclaim the Night is a yearly event which takes place up and down the country, usually in university towns or cities. The Reclaim the Night website boasts “sister marches” to its London event in Belfast, Exeter, Northampton, Portsmouth and Southampton, to name just a few.

In Manchester this year, the march took place on the 23rd February and was organised by the University of Manchester’s Students’ Union. They held banner making sessions in the lead up to the event. Some of my favourite banners and signs read “Feminism is the radical idea that women are people too” and “No does not mean maybe.”

Chants on the march called for safe streets, higher rape convictions and stopping rape crisis cuts. The atmosphere that evening was one of anger, but you could tell that everybody on the march felt that being there would make a difference. Some of the most passionate attendees were young men chanting “this is what a feminist looks like,” showing solidarity to their friends who have been victims of sexual violence.

You may be unaware that Reclaim the Night’s origins in the UK are on the other side of the Pennines in Leeds. The UK marches started on the 12th November 1977 in Leeds, York, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Brighton and London. The marches were inspired by “Take Back the Night” marches being held in West Germany on the 30th April 1977.

Women in Leeds started the Reclaim the Night group for action against sexual violence. This was noteworthy to the women in this area because of Peter Sutcliffe, known in the press as the "Yorkshire Ripper". He sexually attacked and murdered thirteen women between 1975 and 1980. The police response to these events, at the time, was to tell women that they should not go out at night. Out of this suggestion came Reclaim the Night.

Figures published in An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales (the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice, Office for National Statistics and Home Office in January 2013), show that 100% of reported offenders of the “most serious sexual offences” against female victims in 2009/10 and 2011/12 combined were males and that nearly half a million adults in England and Wales are raped every year.

According to Rape Crisis, a feminist organisation that exists to promote the needs of women and girls who have experienced sexual violence – 93% of their service users are female from 2016-17. This shows that whilst men are victims of rape, women appear to be disproportionately the victims of sexual violence.

Reclaim the Night is one of many fights for equality happening currently around the world. However, gender inequalities run much deeper and exist on every level of society. A simple online search of the word “sexism” will give you over 9 million hits, many of which will be news articles about sexism in sport, in the workplace and in films.

2018 has arguably been a big year so far for women’s rights. It’s the 100 year anniversary since (some) women got the right to vote; Manchester will finally get its second statue of a woman, the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst; and for the first time companies with more than 250 employees have had to publish figures on their gender pay gap. The ongoing existence of events like Reclaim the Night makes it very clear that there is still work to be done and that people are willing to do it.

Bryony is in her second year at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying Multimedia Journalism.

Notes: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED measures. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.

Indictor 1.1.3 of ProtectED's Student Harassment and Sexual Assault Instrument requires member universities to have measures and initiatives in place to help raise awareness of sexual violence among students.

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