Reclaim the Night

“Reclaim the night” is a women-only march in London, demanding justice for rape victims in a country in which, according to the British Crime Survey (2001) there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults — with a paltry conviction rate of 5.3%.

On Saturday November 24th, the annual Reclaim the night┬ámarch took place in London. It is a women-only march to demand justice for rape victims in a country in which, according to the British Crime Survey (2001) there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes and over 300,000 sexual assaults — with a paltry conviction rate of 5.3%.

The significance of the Reclaim the night marches, which started in the UK in the 1970s, was highlighted during the years in which Peter Sutcliffe murdered women in the Leeds area. The police response to these murders was slow and the press response muted while the murders involved prostitutes, concern only reaching appropriate levels when students began to fall victim to the serial killer. The concern was expressed however in a most unfortunate way — with the suggestion that women not go out at night.

Women once more were expected to constrain their own behaviour in order to control male behaviour, to be responsible for them as if they were animals or children, unable to exercise any responsible choice themselves. This train of thought is still common: an ICM poll commissioned by Amnesty International in 2005 found that over one third of the British public surveyed believed that women were sometimes wholly or partly to blame if they were raped.

The idea that women, wherever they may lie on the continuum of dressing sexily, flirting and/or drinking, are personally responsible for a man’s decision to rape them is insulting, I would say, both to women (who are seen as goods who should brand themselves better in order to be used in the right way) and to men (who have no choice but to act on their basest impulses when not kept in check). It is a way of shaming women who act as some men do, that is to say, as if they were free to do as they liked.

Safety is in numbers, as the march demonstrates. Women have to look out for each other on an everyday basis. Maybe men should start looking out for each other too, to make sure that no-one gets hurt, either through loss of control or by a conscious decision — easily made when the consequences will never have to be faced. The latter scenario happens too.

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