“Girls just wanna walk home!”: Students come together to reclaim assault hotspot

Here’s what happened at the “Reclaim Headingley Stadium” event

Around seventy people gathered yesterday to reclaim the alleyway behind Headingley stadium, a hotspot for sexual assault. The Tab Leeds headed down to the “Reclaim Headingley Stadium” event which took place on Friday 30th October.

This comes as numerous stories of sexual assault in the area have come to light, with 17 recorded assaults in the area directly around the alleyway in the last year, and as MPs are urged to discuss implementing better safety measures in the area.

Students and non-students gathered next to the car park and the police were poised at a healthy distance to observe proper compliance of social distancing rules.

Clusters of people stuck themselves closer together as organisers held out tape measures and dished out hand sanitiser in efforts to ensure they were not “shut down by police”.

‘Reclaim Headingley Stadium” signs were attached to walls around the area

As waves of people arrived, organisers put on hand painted t-shirts with “Reclaim Headingley Stadium” on the back and began encouraging people to take their neon printed leaflets and stick them along the walls of the alley. Leaflets included information making people using the alleyway aware of  history of sexual violence, and to provide information for those who want to help the cause reach the local MPs and Council.

Within a matter of weeks, reports of sexual assault have rocketed and social media has been flooded with women describing their experiences and mis trust of the alley, particularly at night. Organisers of the event got involved only last Saturday as they grouped together to contact the council and other officials for statements.

Attendees gathered around the assault hotspot

Rhiannon Griffiths, one of the organisers of the event, gave a speech highlighting the pressing matter of the cause and the ‘insensitive’ approach taken by the authorities in response to the recent sexual assault. 

She said: “In August in Leeds North West there were 466 sexual and violent assaults, in September there were 390 – the fact that this is still happening in 2020 is worrying especially as these attacks are occurring in student dominant areas”.

She went on further to say: “there is no curfew for assault and rape, so efforts from the Fresh2Death team will not solve the main issue here. The council propose to cut back the trees to make it safer but this won’t fix the problem either.

“We want CCTV to be installed in the area, and increased lighting so it is safe for everybody and we want it locked between 11pm and the morning.”

Protestors gathered with social distance

West Yorkshire Police’s ‘insensitive’ response to the assault was also addressed. On their Facebook page, they labelled the recent alleyway assault as a ‘rumour’ and organisers at the event responded by stating that ‘this is why students don’t feel comfortable talking to the police’ illustrating how the police are arguably being dismissive of the concerns of the local community. 

Signs were displayed around the area

One of the attendees, Emily, a 2nd year radiography student, stated she “uses the alleyway frequently”. She told The Tab Leeds: “Recent events have scared me, this protest is comforting as it is clear that the local community and students of Leeds are standing in solidarity against sexual assault.

“Change is needed as winter is approaching making the alleyway darker and scarier at night.”

Two event attendees hold signs expressing their desire for the area to be safe for women

Speaking to an organiser, The Tab Leeds were told that after numerous emails were sent to constituency leader, Labour MP Alex Sobel, but only his secretary was available to reply. Organisers asked Alex to come to represent his constituency and show his concern, but were disappointed by the second hand reply that said he was “not free”.

However, despite his unavailability, Sobel has managed to attend meetings with Fresh2Death. This has come as a shock to student organisers who are directly tied to the abuse awareness society but were not considered a “concerned party” by MP Sobel.

A sign attached to railings near the alleyway expressed the views of the protesters

Though Sobel remained silent, organisers were encouraged to find that the link to the event was shared by Lib Dem and Conservative MP’s via Facebook.

The council have also responded, and a meeting is set for Wednesday with organisers to discuss a solution.

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