When we shared details of the upcoming Take Back the Night event to be held in Penzance on Monday 6 December, Pendeen WI member Crystal Wakefield wrote to us. With her permission, we are sharing Crystal’s words here:
I’m writing about some historical moments and initiatives, and some personal ones, in regard to the importance of the Take Back the Night March and vigil, the global 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence campaign and the right of women and girls to feel safe anywhere, and also enjoy all the same rights men and boys accept as normal, as a given in their lives. Accept my apologies in advance for any inaccuracies caused by my memory, and because I’m no longer familiar with up-to-date legislation, and procedures. However, what I’ve referred to gives an idea of things.
Coincidently, it’s only recently that I was talking with someone about the Reclaim the Night Marches of the 1980s, when I was living in Bristol. The marches actually started elsewhere in the mid ’70s, but were held there, as well as all over the UK, and globally. By the way, starting with a few in the ’60s, Rape Crisis Centres run by volunteers, really got going in the ’70s. It’s tragic that a Rape Crisis Centre should ever have be needed then, even more tragic that they are still needed now.
When I was a trainee social worker in the Chiswick Team (1973 in the London Borough of Hounslow), Erin Pizzie started the first ever Women’s Aid refuge centre anywhere in the world. She had suffered years of domestic abuse from her well known TV journalist husband, well-publicised. Erin and some other women became squatters, taking over an empty, large house in Chiswick. Initially, women and their children had to live in extremely basic conditions. As it was a squat, they couldn’t officially have water, electricity, or gas into the house. However, it was a start.
People don’t realise women who flee domestic violence alone or with their children, usually have to move out of their area, often to a refuge hundreds of miles away, so that they cannot be traced by their partners/husbands. They frequently leave with very little, in great secrecy, taken to a location they’ll know little about. I remember once talking to a female probation officer, who recalled rescuing a female sex worker from her very violent pimp partner; they just managed to escape. It was obviously a terrifying experience.
By the time of my first active involvement with a domestic violence situation, procedures were in place for police to be present, but this wasn’t always the case. As a social worker, I specialised in child protection work, and mental health work, including individual, and group work with girls who had been sexually abused, some of their mothers – survivors of childhood and teenage sexual abuse – and other women survivors. Again, little is realised of what is involved. The girl doesn’t just have to deal with the trauma of the abuse, but also the aftermath of what occurs when she reveals it. It is a major ordeal, for which she will receive specialist professional help and support, and hopefully the start of her healing process. If the perpetrator (father / stepfather / mother’s partner / other male member of the family, or of the household) doesn’t leave the home (for example, if the mother supports the perpetrator), it means the girl is taken to a place of safety. A month later, a court can then make a care order for her long term care. She loses her home, her family life, and if her placement is in another area, she’ll lose her school and her familiar interaction with friends. If the mother accepts the girl has been sexually abused, and the girl stays at home, there are still all kinds of issues to be taken into consideration. Either way Children’s Services, the police, the court, solicitors, possibly barristers, and multiple agencies will be involved, beginning with a full medical examination of the girl, and arrest of the perpetrator. A perpetrator can be a member of the extended family, a family friend, a neighbour, a teacher, etc.
In 1975, The Sex Discrimination Act come into effect, and The Equal Opportunities Commission was established. Forty-six years later the progress that was hoped for still hasn’t been achieved. Sadly, though there have been improvements, what continues is widespread inequality, part of the general oppression, harassment, violence and sexual abuse of girls and women, whether at home, in schools, in the workplace, in social situations, in politics, religion, sports, journeying on public transport, on the streets, and in every part of life. Apart from what is happening or not happening in the UK, internationally women and girls are suffering also. Sexual exploitation of girls and women who have been trafficked by criminal gangs is a big, constantly growing, hugely profitable, business in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, and a massive array of injustices, and deprivation of basic human rights exists in developing, and much poorer nations.
So, because of my involvement of over 50 years, beginning with the women’s movement as a teenager, I’m definitely going on the Take Back the Night march in Penzance as well as to the vigil, and would also strongly encourage other women and girls to do so. Taking such an action may be out of someone’s comfort zone, it may seem like a waste of time not achieving much, or it can be seen as a positive tiny, or even a pigeon step, highlighting what is needed and stepping for a short time into the courageous shoes of all who have gone before, and all their hard work. It might even cause some men and boys to think about why women are doing it, to start conversations, to change their behaviour, to join in the march in solidarity of achieving what is right. And, who knows, it might even save a girl or a woman who, when she hears about it, realises that she shouldn’t have to live in constant fear and terror, and is encouraged to do something about her situation. It might even save a life. As women, we owe it to ourselves and for those who follow on, for a more caring, considerate, respectful, better, safer, different world.
Incidentally, a better world for girls and women would also hugely benefit boys and men in general. (I haven’t forgotten that boys and men also face domestic abuse, sexual abuse, and all forms of other abuse, but the numbers and severity of what takes place is far greater for girls and women).
In the spirit of sisterhood,
Crystal Wakefield, Pendeen WI
If you would like to join Crystal and other local WI members, please assemble at the Wherrytown Skate Park at 5.15pm on Monday 6 December.