On the evening of Wednesday 25th November, I went on my first demonstration through Leicester City Centre. Organised by the Feminist Society from the University of Leicester, a group of people (mostly women but a few men as well) were united to raise awareness of the issue of rape and sexual violence towards women, as part of an national event called ‘Reclaim the Night’.
While sexual assault does happen to both sexes, it is mostly women who suffer from this. It was heartbreaking to hear statistics when individuals gave short speeches about the issue. For example, 1 in 3 women will face some sort of sexual assault or violence in their lifetime.
Despite the saddening statistics, it was great to see the current President of the University of Leicester Student’s Union, who is the first female to take the role in this millennium! There were also female members of the Leicestershire Fawcett Society who proudly marched with their banner, and the rest of the people present were students from both universities within Leicester.
Starting at Bede Park, we peacefully marched our way through the De Montfort University campus, up a long street called New Walk and finished at the War Memorial in Victoria Park. The Leicestershire Fawcett Society sang a few feminist songs while others tried to encourage passers by to join in the march. I held up a placard which my friend wrote the words ‘Reclaim the Night’ on one side, and on the other a haunting message she found on social media: ‘Her dress provokes you? Your face provokes me!’
When we reached the war memorial, everyone lit a candle and placed it by the gates of the memorial in front of some ‘Reclaim the Night’ placards. Blue ribbons were also tied on the gates. The candles represented those who have died as a result of sexual assault/violence, and the ribbons were for those who are survivors of it.
Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans, a research associate at the University of Leicester and a member of the Women’s Equality Party was invited as a guest speaker by the Feminist Society. Standing by the candles and ribbons, she read some parts of the Women’s Equality Party’s manifesto. She was unapologetic when she said that men are the ones who commit sexual violence against women; people are afraid to put it as clearly as she did.
Even though men can also be victims of sexual assault and violence and of course, not all men commit these heinous acts, Brunskell-Evans further explained that it is women who have always been told to stay indoors at night and avoid strangers and to not dress in such away to attract the ‘wrong sort of attention’. On the other hand, men have not been told to not approach women because of how they dress or how they behave; men are not told how to behave while women are.
Out of the entire period of the demonstration, there was one negative comment we received. As we approached the war memorial, there were people training at Victoria Park with a sports coach. The coach saw us processing towards the memorial and said to the trainees who can read what’s on the placards? When the coach saw that one of the placards read ‘How we dress does not mean yes’, he said something along the lines of ‘Of course dressing provocatively is going to attract attention’. Everyone in the march booed and a man from the group confronted the coach. I couldn’t hear what was being said between the two, but it made me hopeful when it was a man from the demonstration who went to retaliate against the comment from the coach!
I feel embarrassed that I didn’t know about Reclaim the Night until very recently, but I’m glad I know of it now. You feel a sense of empowerment when you march with others to fight against something that should not be happening. Everyone should feel safe walking on their own at night time and what you wear should not provoke someone to sexually assault you. A person’s choice of dress is never an excuse for rape.
Rape is never justifiable!
Note: The Leicester Mercury also covered the demonstration- walk and vigil held in memory.