It is somewhat after eight o’clock and I am heading from a volunteering shift at Document Human Rights Festival at the CCA to Cowcaddens subway station. My head feels muffled from spending the best part of the evening in a cinema. I would rather walk home, and when I see I will have to wait 11 minutes on the next subway, I decide to do just so. From Cowcaddens to Kelvinbridge area, there is shortcut that takes you past and underneath the motorway to Maryhill Road, where it meets Great Western Road. Walking past flats and the big Asian supermarket, towards the underpass, it feels eerily quiet. Then, appearing out of nowhere, a guy runs in full speed from the underpass out of my sight. I want to continue walking, because it is the fastest way home, but I don’t. It feels like something is wrong. Or something might go wrong. I can already imagine, that if something were to happen, people would ask me – why were you walking there? Why were you there alone, at night? Why did you not take a taxi?
When I was still in high school, it took me about 45 minutes to cycle home from the centre of Amsterdam. Part of the way was slightly dodgy – quiet or not very well lit. Often, my parents told me to take the subway if I was out at the night, or my mom would pick me up. Every time I insisted I would be fine to make my way home by myself. I thought, and still think, it is so unfair that I have to take precautions, that I have to look behind me when walking up a dark street, that I have to clutch my keys between my fingers, when (most) men can go anywhere at whatever time of the night without being in great danger. I don’t want to be part of that fearful narrative, so often I would insist making my way home alone. Pretty naïve perhaps, but I can (probably) count myself lucky nothing has ever happened to me.
Reclaim the Night marches began for just that reason – to demand the right for women to use public space without fear. The right for women to walk anywhere, and not be blamed or restricted because of men’s violence. Started by women in Leeds in 1977, inspired by ‘Take Back The Night’ marches in Germany, it was particularly significant to women in that area because of the serial murders by the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, or Peter Sutcliffe. The response of the police and the press to what happened was to tell women not to go out at night, effectively putting them under curfew, and sensationalising the murders, hiding the fact that male violence was actually all too common.
On 12th November 1977, torch-lit marches were held in Leeds, York, Bristol, Manchester, Newcastle, Brighton and London. Now, they are spread around the UK, with marches of a similar kind happening in the US under the name ‘Take Back the Night’. Rape Crisis Glasgow always organised the march in Glasgow, but passed the torch to Glasgow-based student unions and NUS Scotland in 2016, when I attended Reclaim the Night for the first time. Walking from Glasgow Green through Merchant City to Strathclyde University with hundreds of others, led by the amazing beats of SheBoom, holding banners and chanting felt incredible. So did walking silently, hands in pockets against the cold, enjoying the strangeness of occupying the dark streets, delighting in all the people waving to us from the sidewalk or cheering from the window of their apartment. I wish walking home at night was always like that.
Reclaim The Night in London is a women-only march, with the exception of boys aged under 12, whereas the Reclaim the Night march I attended last year in Glasgow welcomed men too. While it felt very inappropriate that men were joining the chanting of “Whose Streets? Our Streets”, refusing men means they are unable to show their support and disregards male victims of sexual assault.
Yet it is still, overwhelmingly and undeniably, women who become victim of rape and sexual assault. In 2015/16, 1692 rapes and 117 attempted rapes were reported in Scotland, with an unknown number of cases never brought to the police. One in five women in Scotland have experienced someone attempting to have sex with them against their will. Two per cent of men in Scotland have experienced rape.
These numbers will not go away by marching the street: that has been proven, with sex-based crimes have been on a long-term upward trend since 1974. Yet reclaiming the night is powerful and important, providing a safe space for both victims of sexual violence and supporters to come together, and gives off a message, each and every year, that we demand justice for rape survivors. We march to demand our right to live without the fear or reality of rape and male violence.
‘Fight for the Night’ will take place in Glasgow on Monday 27th November 2017, leaving from Glasgow Green at 6pm. More information can be found here.