Why Reclaim the Night marches are still needed 40 years on - Laura Collins, YEP Editor

My heart was pounding out of my chest as I clutched my handbag as tightly as possible.

Monday, 8th November 2021, 4:45 am
Women are being forced every single day to modify their behaviour. Pic:AdobeStock

I’d wrapped the strap around my wrist and had started to pick up the pace of my fairly swift walk as two strangers lurked behind me.

I decided to slow down to see if they would go past me, they did but they too then slowed down as I went past them again.

My pace picked up again.

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For one fleeting moment I was genuinely scared as I debated heading down a different street out of my way of travel just to avoid the strangers behind me.

But this wasn’t on a darkened street at night. This was during broad daylight, at the height of lunchtime, right at the bottom of my street. I should have felt safe, but I didn’t.

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The relief that I had managed to evade the two men, who were seemingly following me, was overwhelming. But was this all in my head? Were they really following me?

Did they even realise that they made me feel genuinely concerned?

I’ll never know but this is just symptomatic of the society we have become when a lone female feels fearful simply walking down the street.

West Yorkshire’s new police and crime head recently claimed that the streets are now “less safe for women than they ever have been” and that more predators “feel safe” to act out their worst impulses.

And last week a safe nightlife summit was told that police accept that some reports of spiking have previously been dismissed as “simple drunkenness.”

But the summit, which was streamed live on YouTube, was told police in Leeds now do take all reports of spiking seriously.

It comes as a group that has been campaigning for women’s safety on the streets of Leeds for more than 40 years prepares to hold a protest march later this month.

Reclaim The Night Leeds and its supporters will march from Woodhouse Moor through the city centre and on to the town hall on Saturday November 27.

The event is part of the group’s campaign to create a society where women walk freely at any time, and live in homes and on streets safely.

And never has the work of this group been so relevant.

Here we are, more than four decades after the group was first launched, still debating how to make our streets feel safer for those who live and work in Leeds.

While the conversation continues to dominate the agenda, we absolutely need to start seeing some tangible action.

Attitudes are starting to change around the issue but there is still a very long way for us to go as a society to eradicate these fears.

Women are being forced every single day to modify their behaviour and that simply shouldn’t be the norm.

We shouldn’t have to feel as though we need to clutch our belongings tighter or walk faster down the street.

While it’s important that we to keep the conversation going, words are simply not going to be enough anymore.

And ultimately that starts with a tougher stance on the culprits and by building up the trust in the system that actions will finally speak louder than words.