“Reclaim These Streets” vigils cancelled in Durham and Newcastle

Alicia Curry on the in-person vigils cancelled by the police last week in Durham and Newcastle

Alicia Curry
22nd March 2021
Image: Pixabay
Public vigils in the memory of Sarah Everard were cancelled in Durham and Newcastle after permission to hold the events was "revoked".

Sarah, 33, vanished as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on 3 March. The police initially responded to the case as a missing persons investigation.

Tragically, her body was found a week later in woodland near Ashford, Kent.

Serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens, 48, has since been charged with the murder and kidnap of Ms Everard.

The death of the former Durham University student has shaken the country and fuelled demands for change in tackling violence against women.

Amongst those wanting to show their solidarity were Durham Womxn's Association, who hoped to hold a “Reclaim These Streets” vigil in the memory of Sarah at Palace Green, Durham. 

Sadly, the in-person event was cancelled, and instead the vigil was held virtually.

In a statement, they said: "It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the cancellation of the in-person vigil.

"Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of everyone involved in organising as safe and respectful an event as possible, the permission originally granted to us by the police has been revoked”.

A similar event planned in Newcastle city centre was also cancelled after Northumbria Police and Newcastle City Council said that the plans would breach COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, the organisers of both encouraged supporters to light a candle on their doorsteps at 6pm on Saturday 13 March, as an act of remembrance for "Sarah Everard and for every other woman who has suffered violence and harassment by simply being a woman".

The cancellations come after the Metropolitan Police was criticised of their handling of the Clapham Common vigil in London. The decision to break up the crowd, and their behaviour in forcibly arresting attendees and walking over the flowers laid by them, prompted public anger. 

Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, was amongst those who condemned the officers involved, saying he was “deeply concerned” by the footage from the vigil. 

The disturbing death of Ms Everard has illuminated the harsh realities of women across the country, with many sharing their experiences of feeling unsafe, and the violence and harassment they are forced to endure.  

We need better education - shifting the focus from telling women they need to be careful

Newcastle University Professor Rachel Pain

Newcastle University Professor Rachel Pain, and specialist in gender-based violence, has said there will be “no quick fix” for women, adding, “there are things that can be relatively easily done to make public transport safer, as well as in terms of reporting incidents, and changes to the criminal justice system to take incidents more seriously.

“But we need better education - shifting the focus from telling women they need to be careful, because the vast majority of women are already being careful. It’s about sending a wider message to society.

“For example, some universities do training on bystander intervention, educating men to watch out for what other men are doing.”

She added: “It’s about taking things like indecent exposure seriously. These things are not a bit of a joke, they are connected to more serious incidents and they create a well justified fear.

“As a society we need to stop minimising these incidents. They are not as serious as what’s happened to Sarah Everard, but they become normalised and people grow up just accepting they have to take precautions.

“The vast majority of woman are taking precautions anyway, but that’s not working to reduce sexual harassment and sexual assault. It’s time to look at other interventions.”

At Newcastle, there is a range of support for those impacted by sexual harassment and violence, find out more here.  

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