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Reclaim the Night
Reclaim the Night

Tomorrow sees the end of the 16 Days of Action against Violence Against Women for 2016 and the conclusion of a very diverse programme of activities across Scotland. Central among these have been the Reclaim the Night marches which have taken place in a number of towns and cities, in some cases for the first time ever.

Reclaim The Night, which protests the right of all women to have the freedom to go where they want without having to restrict their movements to accommodate the threat of sexual violence, are now a regular fixture in the feminist calendar, and are often organised by women who are part of the Rape Crisis movement.

Reclaim the Night marches were first held in the UK in 1977, inspired by similar marches which had taken place in Germany. These were organised by women in Leeds, outraged and protesting violence against women following the sexual assaults and murders of 13 women perpetrated by Peter Sutcliffe.

In Scotland a year later, although they did not call it a Reclaim The Night march, the Edinburgh Women’s Liberation Movement (in which the Edinburgh Rape Crisis centre had its roots) organised a show of feminist defiance on the night of 31st 1978, which was described in that day’s Glasgow Herald as marking “the start of a week of action by the movement to show how they intend to fight back together against rape.” and a spokeswoman commented: ‘Rape is a threat which any woman, old or young, faces at any time. In Edinburgh between 400 and 800 rapes and sexual assaults occur every year, but only a small number are reported to the police…We will take over the Meadows tonight to assert our right to walk freely without harassment at any time, anywhere…’ During the week of action, thousands of leaflets and stickers will be distributed throughout the city.

The movement has set up the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Group, a women’s collective involved in running a centre for women who have been raped or sexually assaulted. The centre offers a comprehensive service giving confidential support and advice on medical and legal steps that should be taken after an attack.” [Ernest McIntyre in The Glasgow Herald, October 31st, 1978]

The rape and sexual violence Reclaim the Night marches aim to highlight and challenge is by no means confined to the night – or the streets, and the recognition that women are as vulnerable to assault every bit as much within their own homes at the hands of partners or acquaintances as they are anywhere else is one of the vital messages organisers strive to communicate.

This year Scotland has seen the first ever Reclaim the Night marches in Fort William (1st December), and last night also in Perth, Irvine and Stirling. Megan Johnson, Centre Manager for the new Forth Valley Rape Crisis Centre which organised the Stirling march said:

‘I’m really excited that it’s happening, and that we’re getting to be part of it. I think it’s important to do this kind of thing  because I think for me what Reclaim The Night is about is recognising the threat of violence that all women live with, and whilst our centre supports people of all genders and that’s important, we do recognise that while anybody can experience sexual violence, women are more likely to live with that threat constantly. I think that it’s important to talk about is why it is that women don’t feel safe and how we change that so I think Reclaim The Night is very important for women to have that space to come together and say this isn’t ok: this is the reality of what we live with. It has been a joy to organise, it’s been very busy – I think we’ve been incredibly ambitious in our first year but everybody has been very supportive – the partnership has been very supportive – they really do things well for 16 Days in Stirling and make a big effort, survivors and other people who associate with the centre have really come together to help us make it happen.’

You can see a video of the Stirling march in Central FM’s news report at http://www.centralfm.co.uk/2016/12/09/27302/

The image above is of a banner from the first ever Reclaim the Night march in Perth, organised by Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre Perth & Kinross, whose pre-publicity included the following quote which captures so well the motivation underpinning this growing movement:

“Today we march, as so many women have done before us, to say that we are NEVER to blame for rape and male violence. Those men who choose to commit these crimes are to blame. We march today to demand our right to live without the fear or reality of rape and male violence, we demand an end to male violence against women, we take back this night to win the day.” ~ from Reclaim the Night (http://www.reclaimthenight.co.uk/why.html )