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No longer reasonable – locked in and pissed off


Image courtesy of Charlie Dacke, Solent Feminist Network. Reclaim the Night London 2010.

Joan Smith made me really angry this week.

Actually, let me rephrase that. Joan Smith made me remember an old anger this week in her brilliant column in the Indie, asking: How about telling men, not women, to stay indoors?

Smith’s article highlights the continuing bad advice being given to women in the wake of the tragic and still unsolved murder of Joanne Yeates (see earlier WVoN story).

Her article follows the statement given by Avon and Somerset Chief Supt, John Stratford, who though acknowledging “there is no specific intelligence or information to suggest an increased threat to [public] safety”, then issued the following advice to women:

“Women should avoid walking home after dark, householders should try to keep their premises secure and just take care when answering the door to strangers.”

The advice that women – the potential victims of the crime – should stay indoors is interesting on many levels, as Smith points out:

“…the specific advice to women to avoid walking home alone after dark means that the onus is once again on one half of the population to make radical changes in their daily routine.”

Moreover, Smith highlights that:

“[The police have] issued this alarming edict even though there’s a glaring hole in their logic: detectives say they’re ‘satisfied’ that…Yeates arrived at her flat in Clifton on… the night she disappeared, which suggests that home isn’t a particularly safe option for local women either.”

What made me really angry when reading Smith’s piece is the fact that this advice is issued to women whenever attacks like these occur, be they single attacks as with Joanne Yeates, or serial rapes or murders, such as those experienced in the dark days and nights of the Yorkshire Ripper.

In  2003, in my first ever published work (for the University of York’s Centre for Women Studies Raw Nerve Press), I made exactly the point Smith made this week – in response to a serial rapist.The article was called ‘No longer reasonable’ and explored the continuation of feminist anger from the seventies through to the present day, linking such anger particularly to continuing violence against women.

At the time, the so-called ‘Trophy Rapist’ filled the news. As I wrote, he had already claimed 10 victim. This excerpt is taken from my article.

“Police are warning all women and girls across southeast England ‘that they should be accompanied and remain alert’ (BBC News Online) as they have no doubts the rapes will continue. The atmosphere of watchful panic is reminiscent of the fear that spread among women during the attacks perpetrated by the Yorkshire Ripper during the late seventies.

“Once again, one man sentences the women of the UK to self-enforced curfews and helpless dependency. Once again, one man, portrayed as a monster, reminds women of what we already know: the perpetual awareness of being a potential victim that serves to undermine our autonomy.

“I would like to see women stepping out of their houses, together, into the very areas they have been warned attacks may take place. I would like to see large groups of women searching for this man, I would like him to feel haunted and hunted and afraid. Most of all, I would like to see acts of open and furious defiance by women to illustrate that we will not be passively terrified into submission until the burly police force comes to our rescue. In order for this to happen, women would need to link such acts of violence against women with a feminist understanding of women’s oppression worldwide.”

I was interested to see that Smith ends her article in much the same way, invoking the origins of the Reclaim the Night marches to the reign of the Yorkshire Ripper in Leeds. I know that our Reclaim the Night Marches took place a few months ago, but like Smith, I urge the women of Bristol to consider organising another one.

And if you do, please let us know. I for one will be there with you, because, to put it bluntly – this shit is getting really old.

  1. Jane Osmond says:

    Very nice argument Sarah – totally agree.

  2. Shonagh says:

    This shit is getting old and myself and my colleague (both working in jobs to end violence against women) were only commenting this week on how much worse things feel like they are getting with regards to the umpteenth backlash on feminism!! Thanks Saa for publishing yet another inspiring piece, reminds me why we do what we do!! xxx

  3. I’ve also posted in a couple of places that the Bristol Police Superintendents’ gender specific advice to ‘stay in’ might have the effect of actually increasing the fear of crime.

    This increase in crime is not so gender specific either, what about a man who has women he cares about who actually ‘have to go out’. What do you do ?, sit at home worried your wife, partner, daughter had to go out, against police advice…. ‘and you let her ??’

    This brings me to our service for ANYONE who might feel vulnerable. We are a low cost social enterprise. We have taken the technology used for ‘lone worker’ protection and expanded it to anyone who might feel apprehensive or worried about an unwanted approach. We use a state of the art, lightweight mobile phone GPS linked personal safety device. If you feel worried and simply want someone with your details and who knows exactly where you are, to reassure you, listen in to what is happening at the touch of a button that’s fine. The user need not even say a word. In an outright emergency the Incident Management Centre will call the appropriate emergency service – again the user need not say a word.

    In 2011 we are striving to develop our service for survivors of domestic abuse and anyone affected by stalking and harassment. If I can help anybody reading WVON with any further information happy to chat through what we are doing, not a hard sell. Contact details are at our new website Kind regards, Lance

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