Over 1000 people tuned into live-streamed Leeds vigil for Sarah Everard

“We are gonna reclaim the night no matter what”, say united women of Leeds

At 6pm on Saturday, a vigil was live-streamed in honour of Sarah Everard, who was murdered walking home in London, and the women who have come before her. Despite the initial in-person gathering being cancelled, people still gathered at the steps to pay their respects.

The live-streamed vigil received 1000 viewers at its peak, the comment section filled with mostly messages of love and solidarity, women supporting women and honouring each others voices and experiences. The live stream included stories, speeches and a minutes silence for Sarah. Alongside this, presenters listed a surplus of resources available for women and men who have experienced sexual assault or rape such as Sarsville, a Leeds based helpline and local crisis centre.

People gathered outside the Parkinson building to pay their respects

The plan had been for the vigil to be held, in person, at Parkinson steps but was cancelled after Yorkshire police took a u-turn on their initial statement, cancelling the event and forcing it to be held online. Despite police cautioning and threats of fines, a group  gathered, socially distanced, by the steps at 6pm to hold an honorary silence for Sarah. Police were present but did not interrupt the silence. The steps were decorated with flowers and candles to show Leeds’ solidarity and respect for Sarah and her family.

The live-streamed vigil consisted of various speakers sharing stories, experiences and discussing the issue of women’s safety. They discussed how things have evolved since Leeds’ first Reclaim the Night which was held in 12th November 1977 after Yorkshire police instructed women to stay indoors at night to ‘protect’ them from the Yorkshire Ripper, essentially enforcing a gendered curfew. The first Reclaim the Night represented the defiance and unity of Northern women, taking back the streets that threatened their safety and shackled their freedom.

The 2021 Reclaim the Night represented the same strength in women today, coming together to honour Sarah and each other, even in the midst of a pandemic.

People lay notes and flowers in memory of Sarah Everard

Speakers ranged from students, student support officers, to Labour councillor Al Gaithwaite and leader of BLM Leeds, Marvina Newton.

Marvina spoke eloquently about the issue saying, “violence to one of us is violence to all of us”. As she mourned the loss of Sarah, Marvina echoed the voices of every woman across the country saying: “She deserved to celebrate international women’s day, she deserved to be here”.

Labour councillor for Hyde Park and Headingley, Al Gaithwaite, also featured on the live steam, discussing women’s safety in Leeds and her close work with police. She spoke about the sheer immensity of women suffering at the hands of male violence, even on a daily basis. She said that though Sarah’s case is rare, “what isn’t rare is the sexual harassment of women”. Gaithwaite said: “It is not acceptable, whether its called at, catcalled, coerced, this I what we have to challenge and this is what we have to change”.

Police vehicles were seen outside the Parkinson building

Further discussion from student speakers raised issue over the overwhelming amount stories relating to sexual assault coming from the Facebook student page Leedsfess which has reportedly received a staggering increase in the amount of people reporting rape or querying ambiguity with consent. Admins of the page grew concerned, realising the team were not equipped to deal with such sensitive issues. As a result, proposals for an abuse society at the university received over 250 responses and consequently, will be holding its first election this Monday. The society will run events raising awareness of abuse and rape and give students the resource and education to recognise instances of abuse and violence in themselves and among their friends.

Speakers read out personal and anonymous stories describing female experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Due to the sheer quantity of anonymous stories being submitted, presenters of the live stream were unable to share all of the experiences but say they will be sharing stories on all their social medias to give justice and voice to those sharing their trauma.

One student with Autism described her struggles with “reading between the lines” when it came to sex. She described her harrowing experiences of assault and the extra complications faced by women who aren’t neurotypical: “He said just coffee, he said just Netflix, but that’s not what he means”.

Another speaker said: “Every woman I know has experienced sexual harassment but all men claim they don’t know anyone that has. How does that work”.

A speaker conveying an anonymous story of assault said, “I’m serving a life sentence of fear because of his violence”.

The vigil was live-streamed on Facebook

An open letter has been sent from the LUU feminist society to government, pushing to provide young boys with education surrounding rape and consent, teaching boys that this is their problem to solve. The letter will also include complaint over the trans women who were excluded from the list of women murdered this year, a list that was read out in parliament on international women’s day.

Moving final words came from student and member of LUU feminist society, who said: “I stand with Sarah, I want to reclaim the night and end this epidemic of violence against women”.

Reclaim the Night are planning to hold a protest this Wednesday and say further information will released on their social medias Reclaim the Night Leeds in due course.

A vigil is being held tonight at 5pm in Millennium Square.

Sarsville is a Leeds based crisis service who can offer support and counselling for women who have suffered sexual assault. They offer a series of online sessions on demand and are funded by various charities in Leeds. A link to their website can be found here.