Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Sexual harassment during Reclaim the Night, West Yorkshire

I have been contacted by someone via Hollaback, the international anti street harassment movement. The writer reports on the vicious sexual harassment she experienced during a Reclaim the Night march in West Yorkshire. The post is here and I will reprint the body of it below - but please visit the original site because it contains links to other articles, testimonies and Hollaback resources. Sexual harassment is absolutely endemic globally and I have written about it here and here and am a supporter of Vicky Simister's high-profile Anti Street Harassment campaign. The BBC have covered the issue here and the Guardian have also covered it here - and in many further articles. If you want some denial, belittlement, dismissal, perpetrator excusal, claims of lying and outright victim-blaming, read the comments below the Guardian articles.

The woman contacted the Yorkshire Evening Post about the events she describes. The paper ignored her letter, which is below. The editor of the paper is Paul Napier but as you see here from the staff and contacts page, which you can use to express your concern, there are many women in high positions at the paper. Despite this, they obviously do not regard sexual harassment in Leeds as an important issue.

Here's the letter, which was posted to Hollaback today. [UPDATE: I am either delighted or depressed to announce that following this blog post the paper has now printed the letter. The link is here. I am pleased that this blog and that Hollaback are making some kind of a difference in foregrounding theses issues but of course extremely angry that the issues exist in the first place.]
An open letter to the people of Leeds
I don’t know what you all did this weekend, but Saturday evening rather than staying in watching TV, or going out for some drinks, I got the train from Calderdale to attend the annual Reclaim the Night march in Leeds. Although they started in Leeds 1977 in response to the Yorkshire Ripper and the suggestion that women should stay inside in they wish to be safe from violence and sexual assault in the City this was the third event I had attended.
As I met with over 100 other women all ready to `reclaim the streets,` raise awareness of the low rape conviction rate and issue of violence against women. I know lots of you were also out on the town and having a nice evening, some of you saw us and waved, or took a leaflet, or looked bemused at a big group of women all wrapped up protesting in Leeds at 7pm on a Saturday night. However, I’m wondering what it was that led a percentage of people we passed to react to us with such a degree of hostility, violence and aggression?
I’ve both worked and socialised in Leeds before, so why have I never encountered this level of abuse in the past? I don’t understand why a large group of men verbally threatened me two minutes into the march, and shouted in my face comments so sexualized and lewd that this paper wouldn’t print them even if I wrote them down. I wonder if they knew how shocked and saddened this made me feel?
As we passed with our banners and chants, did the people who acted in this manner not think we could easily have been their wives, grandmothers, sisters, partners, aunts or daughters, what was it about what we were doing that made some people act this way towards us? I wonder if the group who stood in a line and swore, shouted and threw plastic bottles full of liquid at us near the dark arches would let me know what angered them so much about a group of women walking through the City protesting against violence against women? Why did this make you violent?
I would love to ask the angry middle aged man outside the Northern Monkey pub on the headrow if he knows how scary I found him when he was shouting and swearing at me? Did he know that I thought he was going to assault me or another member of the group? What made him follow screaming, demanding we come back so he could shout at us more when we tried to walk away?
To what extent where the threats, violence, aggression and hostility toned dowN because some of us had small children with us? I wonder if those reacting in this way noticed them? Was it because we were women? Was it because we were protesting? Was it because you believed women ARE actually safe from violence and threats on the street of Leeds, and that this event has no place in the City?
These aren’t rhetorical questions, I’ve been wondering the reasons all day and would like an answer if anyone can offer me one. What was it all about?