Another successful Reclaim the Night rally took place in Cardiff on November 7th 2011 and was attended by several Swansea students, all supporting a woman’s right to live without fear of violence. Roisin O’Connor reports on the day in Cardiff and also the ongoing Zero Tolerance campaign at Swansea University. 

The British Crime Survey (2001) reported that there are an estimated 47,000 rapes every year, around 40,000 attempted rapes, and over 300,000 sexual assaults. Yet the conviction rate in Britain is the lowest it has ever been, at only 5.3%.

The Reclaim the Night website showed a recent survey by the young women’s magazine More in 2005 had found that 95% of women do not feel safe on the streets at night, while an astonishing 65% do not feel safe during the day.

Jane Hutt, the Minister for Finance and Leader of the House, addressed the rally of students gathered in Cardiff. This rally followed a women only march through the streets of Cardiff: a demonstration against the daily violence and harassment that women endure on the streets of Wales. Students from all over Wales braced the cold evening to make a stance and reclaim their streets.

“Women marched tonight as many have done before, to make it clear it is never a woman’s fault if she gets raped or assaulted,” she said. “It is the men who choose to assault us that are to blame, we are fighting for our basic rights, not privileges.”

Jane Hutt has a long history of championing women’s issues and was the first national coordinator of Welsh Women’s Aid in 1978.  Other speakers at the rally included Shahien Taj MBE, Chief Executive at the Henna Foundation, and Stephanie Lloyd, NUS Wales Women’s Officer. Ms Lloyd organised both the march and the rally, and also the Sister Activist training day that preceded it.

“Tonight we showed the streets of Cardiff and the whole of Wales that women have the right to walk the streets without the fear or reality of violence,” she said, addressing the attendees. “I am very proud that the students of Wales have lead this march and that so many other women choose to walk with us.”

Reclaim the Night marches started in the UK in 1977, when women in Leeds formed a Reclaim the Night group to take action against rape and male violence against women. Peter Sutcliffe, ‘The Yorkshire Ripper’, sexually attacked and murdered 13 women across Yorkshire between 1975 and 1980.

In March 2011 NUS published the NUS Hidden Marks report – the first ever nationwide report into women students’ experience of harassment, stalking, violence and sexual assault.  It showed worryingly high levels of harassment and violence against women students. In the last eleven days, the South Wales Evening Post has reported no less than four attacks on women in Swansea’s city centre. The most recent was a 23 year old who was grabbed from behind near Oxford Street on Monday afternoon at 5.25pm, and managed to scream loudly enough that her assailant fled.

Eleri Jones, Women’s Officer for Swansea University Students’ Union, was one of those in attendance at the Reclaim the Night rally, and spoke with The Siren about the Zero Tolerance policy that was introduced to the Union by her predecessor Reagan Healey in 2010 after the Hidden Marks report was released in March that same year.

“Anyone who questions the need for a Zero Tolerance policy doesn’t live in the real world,” she said. “Those who have questioned it only need to speak to a female student to understand why it is necessary. Of the female students I have spoken to, only a very small number can say that they have never been sexually harassed.”

The Zero Tolerance policy was introduced in 2010 to counteract sexism, and is led by the NUS Women’s campaign because the vast majority of victims are women.

Several supporters attended a night at Tooters in October wearing Zero Tolerance t-shirts, handing out glowsticks and badges to students to raise awareness for the campaign.

Promoting the Zero Tolerance campaign at Tooters

“The main objective of the policy is to ensure that women feel safe and secure on a night out,” said Ms Jones.

“Any negative reaction at Tooters on the night was massively outweighed by the positive reaction we had from women who told us that they had been sexually harassed and now felt safe and protected with the knowledge that action is being taken to prevent this from happening again. This is easily the least controversial campaign I have participated in because it is wholly based on fact.

“Not only is Zero Tolerance a positive step, it’s necessary because we need to draw a line from the moment any kind of inappropriate behaviour occurs. Something that’s very disheartening is when both men and women say that there is no need for the campaign. I hope that there are women out there who have never experienced sexual harassment, but statistics show that a large number have.

“I was a student at Swansea for three years; I went to the clubs and the bars and had a first-hand experience of what went on.”

The implemented policy at Swansea University is being used as a case study for the rest of NUS Wales, which means that Ms Jones must report back to Women’s officers all over the UK along with NUS and Steph Lloyd. Complaints of sexual harassment are dealt with in a strictly confidential manner. Full Time Officers are not permitted to give advice on how to deal with a specific situation, but they will provide the person with their options.

So far the campaign has been a huge success, with both male and female students giving positive feedback. Bar managers and staff at Swansea University have been trained by NUS on the policy so they understand exactly how things work. Students should feel confident that Eleri Jones will deal with each incident alongside the senior management team and bar managers, and that sexual harassment is not tolerated at our university.