In Michaelmas Term 2015 It Happens Here staged a public demonstration and vigil to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
According to UN Women: Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives. The most common perpetrators are the women’s current or former partners. Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted are almost twice as likely to experience depression as women who have not experienced partner violence and, in some regions, they are 1.5 times more likely to acquire HIV than women who have not experienced partner violence. Adult women account for almost half of all human trafficking victims detected globally. Women and girls together account for about 70 per cent, with girls representing two out of every three child trafficking victims.
This violence is not just about physical power. It is about emotional and psychological power. It is a way of controlling a person, undermining their personhood and their self-esteem. As such, to talk about what you have experienced, to come forward and say “it happened to me”, is extremely difficult. This is why demonstrations like ours are so necessary: society tells women to shut up and deal with it; we need to move towards a society in which everyone stands in solidarity, shoulder to shoulder, with women who have experienced violence and in which services enabling these women to receive support and achieve justice are readily accessible.
We marched through the centre of Oxford carrying placards with slogans personal to the women marching: “Silence is violence”, “No more”, “This must end now”. We ended up at Missing Bean café on Turl Street, the owner of which had kindly agreed to let us use the space after closing hours for the vigil. At the vigil we heard from three women: two Oxford students who read poems in response to the subject of violence against women, and Ellie Bennett, the volunteer coordinator at OSARCC (Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre).
Ellie helped us to remember why we had gathered there that day, even when it can sometimes feel like the world will never change. In her job, Ellie is confronted by the reality that sexual violence is endemic in our society every day, and every day it can feel that the battle to eradicate sexual violence is never-ending. But she does not let this obscure her goal because every action makes a difference, and no difference is small: if one woman feels empowered by our actions that night, that is an immeasurable achievement; if one person walking down the High Street read our placards and thought twice about the assumptions they had made as a result of the rape culture conditioning our attitudes, then we are all one vital, necessary step closer to a just, safe world for women everywhere.
(All stats are from: http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/ending-violence-against-women/facts-and-figures)
Emmeline Skinner Cassidy, Co-chair (Publicity)
Photo credit: Emmeline Skinner Cassidy