A nationwide vigil is being held in honour of every woman who has gone missing on our streets. Here’s what you need to know if you’d like to take part this weekend.
Ever since Sarah Everard was reported missing after walking home from a friend’s house last week, women around the UK have felt connected to her disappearance.
Any woman or girl who has walked the streets at night will know the fear that so often comes with it. And most women reading this will have taken those extra precautions – crossing the road to the better-lit path, taking out your headphones, texting a friend to let them know your whereabouts – to avoid street harassment or an unsafe situation.
In fact, the case has sparked big discussions about just how regularly women feel a need to do this. Stats from the Mayor of London’s Police and Crime unit show that in the year up until March 2019, 87% of all recorded sexual assault victims were female, with over 16,000 cases with female victims. The same report highlights the reality for Black women on our streets, with 18% being affected by sexual violence crimes compared to the average 16% of the London population.
While Sarah’s story is shocking and absolutely devastating, the almost unbearable fact is that it is a reality for so, so many women and their families every year – they just don’t get as much media attention as this case has. The infuriating truth is that someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK, and many more disappearances go unreported.
Over the last six months, Sheetal Gussar (39, Ealing), Umayma Amrania (16, Islington) and Aminata Toure (29, Southwark) are just a few of the names of women who have been reported missing in London alone. And in the days since Sarah’s disappearance, which was just over a week ago, Amelia Zapadka (16, Dunstable) and Ella Clancy (16, Ealing) have also been reported missing.
You can find a list of missing persons on the Missing People website.
Sarah’s disappearance has triggered a fast and strong response from people who want to highlight the stories of every woman who has ever felt unsafe on the streets, and those who have gone missing. A nationwide vigil – Reclaim These Streets – is now being organised this weekend as a safe space for women to come together and do this.
One of the vigil’s organiser’s, Jamie Klinger, explains to Stylist: “We believe that streets should be safe for women, regardless of what you wear, where you live or what time of day or night it is. Sarah did all the ‘right things’ – wearing bright colours, calling a friend, sticking to main well lit roads – but that a) it still wasn’t enough and b) it’s wrong that the response to violence against women requires women to behave differently – women are not the problem.”
Mary Morgan, a writer and scholar who’s an expert on body politics, and who is also helping to organise the vigil, tells us: “The reality is that it does not matter what women do. We can do it completely ‘right.’ We can take every safety measure into consideration. But it is not enough, and that’s because women’s actions are not the problem. The problem is a societal system that permits, even encourages, acts of aggression against women.
“Our society has always focused on teaching women how to avoid, prevent or deter violence, rather than stopping it altogether by attacking the systems which foster its occurrence.”
She adds: “We need societal change. It’s more than a conversation, or sharing a meme, or men reacting in shock while women share their endless stories of harassment, stalking and assault. We need a societal shift in attitudes and behaviors around women and their bodies. We need a full change in culture.”
What is the Reclaim These Streets vigil?
The main vigil will be held at the bandstand at Clapham Common at 6pm on Saturday 13 March. There will also be simultaneous vigils taking place all over the country and online for those that cannot join in person. Attendees are encouraged to take a light to remember those we’ve lost.
The vigil will observe strict Covid-19 safety guidelines, including compulsory mask-wearing and social distancing. You are also advised to download the NHS contact tracing app and turn your Bluetooth on.
There will be a moment of silence for Sarah and every woman who has gone missing. You can find all details on the Reclaim These Streets Facebook page.
Women are sharing their vital reasons for joining the vigil, including Twitter user Mishti who wrote: “Students of Cambridge, it’s time for us to #ReclaimTheseStreets. Join the vigil on 13 March for Sarah Everard and every woman threatened on our streets. [Please] share and support.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy has tweeted: “Our community has been shaken to the core by what happened to Sarah Everard. Women should be able to live without the threat of violence, abuse, or harassment. Let’s stand together this weekend in solidarity #ReclaimTheseStreets.”
Another Twitter user shared: “I’m a trans woman. I never used to have to think about my route, who was walking behind me, what I wore, if I looked vulnerable or not. Now I do. Every, fucking time I go out! Think about that for a second.”
And clinical psychologist Emma asserted: “Women have been trying to #ReclaimTheNight since the 70s when the Yorkshire ripper showed that no woman was safe to walk alone at night. How are we still having the same conversation?! Stop focusing on what the victim is or isn’t doing.”
Missing People has also shared the importance of continuing to raise awareness, telling Stylist: “Our hearts go out to Sarah’s family and friends at this unimaginably difficult time. Sarah’s disappearance is a stark reminder that every 90 seconds someone in the UK is reported missing. Each is vulnerable and missed. As a charity here to support both the missing person and their loved ones, this is an important moment to raise awareness that support, care and understanding exists, whenever it is needed and whatever the circumstance.
“Disappearances like Sarah’s are thankfully rare, however every woman should feel safe from the threat of violence.”
If you are worried about a missing person or have information about a missing person, please contact Missing People via the charity’s website. Anyone who wants to support the campaign against street harassment can find more information on the Stop Street Harassment website.
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