Reclaim These Streets Speech

Here is a speech given by our Community Engagement Manager at the Reclaim These Streets online vigil on 13th March 2021.

Those of us with a trauma history, even that which we thought resolved, might have noticed our hypervigilance creeping back up this week. Not because there is a current, acute, greater threat to us as individuals right at this moment, but because it’s become impossible to brush it off and pretend everything is normal. It might be common, but this is not a normal way to live.

In fact, even those of us who haven’t experienced trauma, or wouldn’t think of it in that way, might be experiencing the same. Because actually, it’s traumatising to live in a world which is this unsafe. Which tells you you’re overreacting, being hysterical, when you try to raise the fact that you feel unsafe, uncomfortable, belittled, used. A world which gaslights you, and has done since you were born.

But to live in that world, we have to find ways to believe we are safe, to put a shiny veneer over all the evidence. And at times like these, that veneer wears thin. The atmosphere feels raw. Our distress is palpable. Distress isn’t even the right word: grief, anger, outrage, horror, resignation. Familiarity.

We’ve been here before, haven’t we? How many times? At least 120 in the last year alone — women suspected to have been killed by men in the UK. In Wales, at least 6 women are suspected to have been killed by men since last International Women’s Day.

Across the country, many remain unreported, or make a few news articles for a day or two. We express shock, the neighbours are asked about the perpetrator, “he was a nice guy, loving husband, adoring father, we just can’t understand”. She is often unnamed in headlines: “woman”, “wife”, “mother”. “She nagged him”. “He just snapped”. 2 women a week are killed by partners or ex-partners. Even that statistic is familiar now. But it’s more than that. 3 women a week killed by men. Another 3 at least take their lives in relation to domestic abuse. A third of women will experience sexual violence. At least ¼ will experience domestic abuse. The UN reports 97% have been sexually harassed. And every single form of violence against women has increased during this pandemic. This is not normal.

And behind each of these statistics, a story. We’ve all got one, or ten.

I first experienced sexual harassment age 11. First sexually assaulted at 13, in school no less. Raped at 18. Sexually harassed at work at 22. Followed home whilst living abroad at 24. Masturbated at in broad daylight in Bute Park at 26.

I don’t tell this timeline for sympathy. Of each of the thousand times I’ve walked home alone, I’ve always made it back — and none of us should have to think that we’re lucky to say that. Each of us has a timeline like this, that forms a backdrop to our lives. I don’t think I know a single woman who doesn’t. Some have been more affected by male violence, others less. But its presence creates a constant hum, these high violin strings, a tension that sings, louder or quieter throughout our lives, ever present, whether through direct experience, or listening to our friends, our family.

Whoever she is, it could have been us.

But even this is familiar by now, isn’t it? We go through this cycle, again and again. Tragedy, outrage, pouring out our grief and torments, our #MeToos, in the hope that by voicing them, those who hurt us will listen. Will stop. Will change.

And it’s important. It helps us to know we aren’t alone. That we’re not at fault. That’s really important. We need these connections to keep us going, because this is hard, hard work. But sharing is not enough.

We need resources. Dedicated, sustainable resources. Specialist services supporting women who need them exist year to year on a shoestring, and it’s not good enough.

We need men to step up. Not once, but again, and again, and again. It won’t make you popular. It’s not comfortable — but you have access to platforms we don’t: namely the eyes and ears of all the men in your life. They aren’t here listening to us — but they might listen to you.

We need change. Demand it. The government has reopened the call for evidence on the VAWG strategy — they received 15,000 responses when they closed it in February, and received at least another 20,000 since reopening it last week. Fill it in. Let them know what you think.

They have mounting evidence. We need action on the back of that. Write to your MP or MS, and demand sustainable funding for your local specialist service. Organise a fundraiser. Do what you can.

Most importantly, do what you can to keep this energy going. This isn’t just about reclaiming our streets — we’ve seen that this isn’t just a public matter, this happens everywhere. This is about reclaiming our homes, our workplaces, our lives. It feels like we have reached another turning point in this long road. There’s still so, so much to do, but we can’t turn back now.

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