What do we want? SAFE STREETS! When do we want them? NOW! Reclaim the Night!
On Saturday 16th November I attended the ‘Reclaim the Night’ Protest organised by the Brighton Feminist Collective (BFC). I had heard that the peaceful protest was to take place through the streets of Brighton to help raise awareness of issues such as sexual harassment and sexual based violence. The march proceeded from Brighton train station from 6:30pm to the beach via West Street, then continued along St James Street before concluding with a rally at Jubilee Library. Speakers at the rally included members from the Brighton Feminist Collective, representatives from the Black Women’s Group, Savior’s Network, the English Collective of Prostitutes and Trans Pride Brighton. The speakers highlighted ongoing sexual assault and harassment in Brighton, and the need to support local charities in tackling this ongoing problem.
Doing some research before the event I found that according to data from the Pixel Project, over 80 percent of women report experiencing street harassment. A January 2013 joint report by the Ministry of Justice, the Office for National Statistics, and the Home office found that over 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year and 1 in 5 women (aged 16-59) has experienced some form of sexual violence. A 2013 report by UK charity Galop indicated that three quarters of trans people are the target of transphobic abuse each year and an eighth of LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) people experience homophobic or biphobic crime each year. According to a Home Office report in 2004, over half of women engaged in street-based sex work have been raped or seriously assaulted and three quarters have been physically assaulted.
I was intrigued to find out more about the protest and was lucky enough to be able to speak with some of the stewards from the Brighton Feminist Collective organising the event. They were keen to highlight that although this protest is clearly screaming women rights, it is actually aimed at everyone; everyone is welcome. I could see this was the case, as there were many families, young boys and men present who were keen to make a stand against sexual crimes. I was quick to see that this protest was more than just “another feminist march”, as it delved deeper than that. It is about all ages, all races, and all genders; issues that affect all of us. Caroline Lucas (MP for the Green Party in Brighton) spoke out at last year’s Reclaim the Night: “we have a right to walk the streets of Brighton and Hove in safety, day or night and this is truly why Reclaim the Night was created”.
I feel it is important to highlight that the Brighton Feminist Collective group is a sex-positive, pro-choice, trans-inclusive and anti-exploitation group. They state that it is an act of violence for feminists to ignore sex workers and transgender people, which can sadly often be the case. Therefore, they urged for the march to be trans inclusive and to welcome those working in the sex industry to join the march to fight for safer streets. They feel that sex workers should have the same rights as anybody; they should have access to health care and safety.
The crowd was riddled with homemade signs and banners, some stating ‘we march because the night belongs to us’, ‘don’t ruin my night’ and ‘safety for sex workers’. The crowd were eagerly singing chants which explained perfectly that there is no blurred lines when it comes to consent; “however we dress, wherever we go, yes means yes, and no means no!”.
After the march, the protest lead to Jubilee Library in which there were music performances and speakers. Jill (a member organising the Brighton Feminist Collective) explains “why do we still reclaim the night? There are many answers for that question. We are here to reclaim our streets. But there is also a bigger battle, a more personal one; we have to reclaim our homes, our relationships, our bodies… Some of us are marching because we are tired of feeling un-safe. Some of us our marching because we are sick of being told that we don’t conform to what a female or male should look or act like. Some of us our marching because we are afraid to kiss our partners in public without being ridiculed. But we are all mostly marching because we feel angry, angry that even in this current age, we are still wrongly stereotyped and defined by our gender”.
For me, Reclaim the Night was an amazing and righteous experience. The crowd was nearing 500-600 people; all chanting in time. The community, spirit and strength of the people marching was second to none.
Written by Kath Buggy