shikhartalwar
24th March 2022

What happened at Reclaim the Night 2022?

Here’s what happened at the Reclaim the Night protest this year!
What happened at Reclaim the Night 2022?

On March 22 2022, Reclaim the Night came back after a 2 year hiatus, with protesters marching from Owens Park in the Fallowfield Campus to the SU building. Here’s a recap of what exactly happened during the protest.

Reclaim the Night is an annual event (apart from the years it didn’t take place due to Covid-19) where students march to protest against the sexual harassment that women face whilst out at night.

This year, there were 3 different topics that students of the University of Manchester were fighting for: legitimising and destigmatizing sex work; awareness and action against sexual assault; and including transgender and non-binary people in conversations about sexual assault.

This year’s Reclaim the Night was in support of two charities, Support for Student Sex Workers and National Ugly Mugs. Support for Student Sex Workers is run by Jess Hyer, who is working to ensure that universities support student sex workers and provide those students with work experience. National Ugly Mugs is a nation-wide organisation that aims to ensure that sex-workers have access to wellbeing resources.

Student gathering at the Fallowfield Campus

Students began gathering at the Fallowfield Campus from 6:00pm. It was at this point that we spoke with Jas Taylor, the SU’s Women’s Officer, who coordinated this year’s Reclaim the Night. To them, this being the 45th anniversary of Reclaim “really represents how far we have come and how far we have yet to go”.

When asked about the importance of the protest they stated: “This year’s event is basically working on campaigns to end violence towards sex workers, ensuring that they have safety in their workplaces. And in general, Reclaim is also a fantastic opportunity for people to unite, feel empowered and protest gender based violence, which continues to threaten aspects of our lives”.

We also asked Jas what could be done by students. They told us that they want students to sign an open letter to Andy Burnham to support sex workers and end gender based violence in Manchester. They also ask students to get involved in organisations like Student Angels and Support for Student Sex Workers.

Students Waiting in Blocs to start marching

As we were interviewing Jas, the crowd behind began forming in 3 blocs. The first bloc to begin marching was the Women+ BlocA student here stated, “We are here tonight to stand up for the people. For us to be able to feel safe on the street, and end gender based violence. Join us and stand up for what is right”.

Behind them was the Liberation Blocwho were specifically encouraging support for sex workers. One of the students stated that they were in this bloc because they wanted the work of sex workers to be accepted “as legitimate work”. They added, “I am here with the Feminist Collective, and we take a firm pro-sex-work stance. We are here to support sex workers”.

Finally, there was the Mixed Bloc, consisting of a mix of people and genders. Two students here said, “We are here to reclaim the night. We want to feel safer when we go out with friends and not have to worry about harassment”.

The blocs started marching on Wilmslow Road from around 6:45pm. They were led by Jas Taylor and Syd King, the PTO for disabled students. Their chants included, “Who’s streets? Our streets!” and “Tell me what a feminist looks like? This is what a feminist looks like!”.

As the protest went further into the city, marching up the Curry Mile, it began gaining support from people on the street. There were cars honking in support and people who recorded and supported the protestors as they marched.

Student with megaphone shouting out the chants during the march

The march continued, chanting more slogans like “2-4-6-8, stop the violence, stop the hate” as it crossed the Curry Mile and went to march down Oxford Road.

However, while the support for the march was huge from even by-standers, there were still hecklers along the way, with one heckler saying, “Calm down ladies”. We asked one of the student marchers what they thought of such heckling, they said “it just shows how far we have yet to go in gender equality and liberation”.

Students marching down Oxford Road towards the University

The march still continued strong and entered university campus, stopping next to the steps by 532, where four speakers gave speeches.

The first of the four was Jas Taylor, who stated: “We have marched here tonight to protest the fear we face when leaving our homes at night. To fight the culture of male violence which results in the deaths of hundreds of women every year. The domestic abuse that a million UK women will suffer in 2022. The thousands of trans women who will be subject to violence. The deaths of sex workers every year. The 62% of students suffering from sexual violence. When all of these figures should never have been past zero”.

They established the 3 factors that the protest was on once again. They established the reasons why a student might turn to sex work, how stigmatising it creates more problems, and for asking for better safety for student sex workers. They also pointed out casual misogyny staying how “respectability politics and pick me behaviours are deadly”.

Student holding sign during march

Jas also wanted Andy Burnham to denounce the Nordic Model that organisation White Ribbon works on. White Ribbon has been working with Manchester City Council since 2018 to bring an end to gender based violence, but their endorsement of the Nordic Model means they view sex work as a violation of human rights.

They state that sex industry promotes “dehumanising, objectifying, and sexist practices and behaviour”, so the Reclaim the Night campaign wanted to fight against these ideologies and ensure that sex workers are given more support.

Jas asked all those present at the protest to sign the open letter to Andy Burnham as well as send the following tweet together:

After Jas Taylor, Jess Hyer came up to speak, advocating for increased support for the sex working community. Jess drew upon their own experience and how during their formative years at university such a support system was not available.

But they looked at the situation at the University optimistically, stating that, “the positions that were once held by people who let me down, are excited by our work and our passion… Sadly in terms of wider society there is a long long way to go. Studies show that student sex workers see secrecy as the number one negative aspect of being employed in the sex work industry”.

They also asked for a minute of silence towards the end of their speech to remember the “people who have lost their lives at the hands of men”.

Then came Syd King, who started by stating how many people wouldn’t want them to give this speech as they are not a woman. But they wish to talk about how many transgender and gender non-binary people are not free from facing “gender based violence”.

They stated names of a few people who have been subjected to gender based violence while not being a woman. They added: “Murders of trans people go up year-by-year. Over 350 trans people were killed in 2020 and 2021 is even worse… An estimated 53% trans people, 61% of disabled trans people and 72% of trans sex workers in the US alone experience sexual assault every year. But we hardly every talk about intersectionality”.

Student in Bloc holding up signs

They added how this is an “epidemic of violence”, further questioning how barring transwomen from ‘women-only spaces’ helps in furthering this agenda better. They want all communities who are subjected to gender based violence to support each other and not deny each other the chance of standing up and speaking out.

Last to speak was Serena Jemmett, who founded Resist Rape Culture, a campaign for tackling rape and sexual violence while also increasing support systems for victims and survivors.

Serena looked at the questions that every woman is faced with when talking about sexual violence and the questions brought upon them for this. She spoke about wanting to improve the advice and response team for sexual assaults at the University of Manchester, and to make changes to Manchester at large, such as making the GMP more victim focused.

She said she wanted this protest to not be the be-all and end-all of everyone’s work towards equality for this year, saying that we need to teach “Men and women that their behaviour is not okay… teach consent in primary school… and hold perpetrators to account with zero tolerance. And I mean zero”.

Photo: Shikhar Talwar @ Mancunion

After the speeches, students gathered at a market that was set up in the SU. The market had independent sellers and Reclaim the Night merchandise. The night then ended with an after party, called Reclaim the Nightlife, held at YES.

 

If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article or during the march, you can find all the helplines and support links here.

You can also donate to National Ugly Mugs and Support for Student Sex Workers.


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