Reclaim These Streets: Hundreds attend virtual vigil honouring Sarah Everard and victims of sexual violence

Hundreds of people attended a virtual vigil on Saturday night, organised by an Edinburgh woman, in honour of Sarah Everard and all victims of sexual harassment and violence on our streets.

People were encouraged to light a candle to remember Sarah Everard on Saturday evening.

This week saw a series of horrific events unfold which ultimately ended with a Met Police Officer being charged with the murder of Sarah Everard.

Candlelight vigils to honour Sarah were organised up and down the country, but due to coronavirus concerns, the majority were pressured to move online or risk police intervention.

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This included two Edinburgh vigils which had been organised to take place at Holyrood and St Andrew Square at 6pm on Saturday, March, 13.

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While there is no doubt that a virtual event cannot compare to the atmosphere hundreds gathering at Holyrood to #Reclaimthesestreets would have seen, the online vigil succeeded in shining a light on the challenges women across Scotland face to simply stay safe on their own streets.

The organiser, 20-year-old Chloe Whyte, opened the virtual vigil by sharing her own story, after reminding audiences that if they required support relating to sexual violence they should contact Rape Crisis Scotland on 08088010302.

Two years ago Ms Whyte was attacked in Edinburgh on a “busy, brightly lit street” while bystanders were present.

Signs and messages started appearing across Edinburgh in support of the vigil honouring Sarah Everard.

She went to the police and was asked by an officer what could have “motivated” the attack, he pointed to her clothes and said: “Is it because of what you’re wearing?”

In the video Ms Whyte said: “I was wearing a mini skirt with some fishnet tights.

"Never had I considered that that would make me responsible for such a horrific event.

"That sat with me, it wasn’t until later, when I was attacked again that I realised that I did not feel comfortable, or have faith in the police, and therefore I did not feel comfortable reporting it.”

A sign in Edinburgh reading 'She was just walking home' in reference to Sarah Everard.

Following Ms Whyte, a trauma counsellor called Jennifer shared that by the time she was 15 years old, she had been sexually assaulted three times by older men and countless times by boys who were her peers.

She continued to list several horrific sexual assaults she experienced in the years following.

She said: “I have been overwhelmed by with the love and support women have shown one and other over the last few days since the murder of Sarah Everard became public.

"Every single one of us can identify with the possibility that we could have been Sarah, merely walking home.

Another message of support spotted in the capital on Saturday evening.

"I call out the burden of responsibility to men, it’s not about protecting any weakness of ours, it is about men’s accountability for their own behaviour”.

Another speaker, actress and playwright, named Morgan, used the platform to share an excerpt from her play called ‘How to make it to your 30th birthday by avoiding any and all danger’.

Using a mixture of humour and real life terror, the play describes a woman walking home, accompanied by a man named John, midnight was approaching and it was about to be her birthday.

When they reached her front door John went in for a kiss, but was told no.

Morgan describes confusion as the woman is hit over the head with a brick, while lying unconscious she is sexually assaulted by her mum’s choir conductor.

The next speaker shone a light on an area of this conversation which is often, and unfairly, left out.

C-Jay is a trans woman who once lived a life free of fear, but since transitioning she felt that freedom disappear from the second a man catcalled her for the first time in the street. She said: “Being labelled as male at birth I had a lot of privileges, I could walk down the street at night without a care in the world...I didn’t realise I had these privileges until they were stripped away from me.

"The first time I was catcalled I was walking to work, wearing my ugly work uniform, when a man who was working in a shop shouted out to me saying I had a nice ass, asking if he could see it a little bit closer.”

When C-Jay arrived at work after her first experience of harassment she told another staff member who replied “that’s being a woman for you, that’s what we have to deal with.”

The next speaker, Kelly, from Scottish Women’s Autism Network read a poem which began: "I’ve spent today in a trance, feeling overwhelmed and lost.

"I’ve cried three times already knowing what my safety costs.

"I didn’t know Sarah personally but it hits so close to home, because I do know her in some ways, in the women I call my own.”

A theme ran through the vigil, the need to change the narrative that women must work to protect themselves, instead men need to be held accountable for their actions.

The final speaker, a Rape Crisis centre manager called Mridul, shared her insight into now being the time that we “reclaim the night”.

She said: “Tonight we reflect, we make a commitment that we will not stop until the violence ends.

"My name is Mridul, I am a rape crisis worker, I am a survivor and I love the night, she is mine.”

Speaking after the vigil, organiser Ms Whyte said she was incredibly proud of what they had created, she said: “I’m honestly just so overwhelmed, we’ve received so much support, it’s been really lovely.”

She said that through the vigil they were moderating the comment section to ensure the space was safe for all attendees, and they didn’t receive a single hateful comment.

She said: “I’m shocked, we were always prepared for a bit of push back perhaps from people who weren’t as understanding about the cause, or maybe who didn’t like our inclusive approach, but it’s just been such a lovely atmosphere to be honest

"Coming together like that has left me feeling really optimistic, it is overwhelming.”

Elsewhere in Scotland, a small number of people paid their respects in person to Sarah Everard in Glasgow’s George Square, leaving floral tributes and ribbons as a mark of solidarity.

To watch the full vigil follow this link.

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