Don’t be afraid of the dark: how Reclaim the Night Sheffield is making the city a safer place

A woman became a victim of attempted rape at Sheffield Train Station this weekend.
A woman became a victim of attempted rape at Sheffield Train Station this weekend.

Whilst sat on a train from Sheffield to Leeds last Saturday evening, a woman became the victim of an attempted rape.

Let that sink in for a moment.

She was on a train.

If you’ve managed to make it past the sheer absurdity of the situation, you’ll get to the part where you feel sick to your stomach at the fact that a woman was unable to sit on public transport without being sexually assaulted.

Not that it’s relevant, but she was with her boyfriend. When he nipped to the loo for a few moments, she was attacked. What does this say about society? Have we now reached a point where a male companion is necessary to keep us safe?

We all like to think we can be our own knights in shining armour, but the brutal reality of the situation is that wherever they are, women are at risk of being attacked. I don’t know about you, but as a young woman, that makes me want to bolt the front door and not come out for a very, very long time.

Enter ‘Reclaim the Night’.

Started in the 1970s, Reclaim the Night was set up after police warned that women should stay indoors after dark, in order to protect themselves from notorious serial killer, the Yorkshire Ripper. As if setting foot out of their houses meant it was their own fault they were being murdered. This suggestive victim blaming sparked outrage amongst many ladies from across the region, and the rest, they say, is history.

Fast forward to 2016, and there are groups dotted about all over the country. Right here on your doorstep though, folks, is the chance to join them in their latest bout of activism. Tomorrow at 6:30pm, the Sheffield branch will be marching through the city, and, according to their Facebook site, you should ‘bring placards, chants and winter woolies’.

Starting at the Cathedral, the march will end in a rally at Coffee Revolution in the University of Sheffield Students’ Union. Anyone who defines as a woman is welcome to take part; and although men are not allowed to join the march, they are fully encouraged to attend the rally. Though many have speculated as to why men are banned from the first part of the event, I think the reason is simple: what could be more powerful than a group of women, marching in solidarity, campaigning for the freedom to do as they please without the fear of being attacked.

 

Sheffield cathedral is the meeting place for tomorrow's Reclaim the Night march
Sheffield cathedral is the meeting place for tomorrow’s Reclaim the Night march

 

Although they are not running the march, several members of the University of Sheffield’s Women’s Committee (WomCom) are attending and stewarding the event. They said: “Women’s Committee are really excited to see people from across Sheffield coming together to show solidarity for women at the march. This is just one of the things we do to combat sexual violence, alongside raising awareness of consent and creating a space where female students can have their voices heard.”

Unsurprisingly, not all ladies feel at risk when walking around the city at night. Lucy, a personal trainer and fitness blogger, told me: “Sheffield has always been my home so I’ve always felt safe here. I’ve moved away to Paris and London but Sheffield for me is such a great city […] I never really spend much time in the city centre at night anymore but I did often when I was younger and always thought of Sheffield as a fun place to be and never had any issues.”

However, the 26-year-old then went on to say: “But because I’ve grown up here I feel like I know the city. I know the roads. I know which streets to walk down and which to avoid and maybe that makes me feel better”.

This is part of the problem. Because I commute to the city, I don’t know about the ‘safe’ and ‘dangerous’ areas. Yes, I can use my noggin and figure out that it’s probably not the best idea to walk down an unlit alleyway, but what’s to stop me being attacked elsewhere? What’s to stop me becoming a victim like the girl on the train?

Although marches such as Reclaim the Night may look to some like just a bunch of women kicking off, this is simply not the case. They’re raising awareness and reminding other sisters that they’re not alone in their fight against sexual violence. And I for one am all for that.

The Reclaim the Night march will begin at 6:30pm at Sheffield Cathedral, and the rally will begin at 7:30 in the Students’ Union. For more information, please see the Facebook event here.