At Queen Mary’s last open day, I got talking to two lovely girls, who were dying to come to the university. We talked about the courses, the pit of broken dreams that is known as Drapers and the fantastic (albeit, bank-busting) experience of studying in London. I then asked them if they had any worries about the area – let’s be honest, Mile End is a far cry from the suburban microcosm or rural towns from which most prospective undergrads are desperate to escape from. Their faces never flickered as they shook their heads enthusiastically, and my heart sank a little bit.
When you live on campus in first year, you can forget that you’re living in one of the most deprived areas of the country. Halls are safe, and the biggest problems for a resident are the constant fire alarms and the smoking crews generally making a ruckus when you’ve got an urgent deadline. But, by the end of the year, you’ll undoubtedly have poked your nose out of the East Gate into the big wide world of Bow and beyond.
As much as we all want to enjoy a care-free and hedonistic lifestyle at university, we all know that our personal safety is of far more importance. This is something that can be compromised in East London. It’s something we should all be worried about, especially as physical assault and rape is on the rise in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney – the three main areas where QM students live in 2nd and 3rd year. Metropolitan Police statistics show that violence against the person has increased at a rate of 22.6% in Tower Hamlets, with more than 8,000 offences in the last 12 months. The amount of rape offences has taken a sharp turn upwards, rising at 44.6%, 29.8% and 9.2% in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Hackney, respectively.
That’s why we need organisations, such as Reclaim the Night, which campaign against the dangerous streets in London. Reclaim the Night is a protest, comprising of a walk through Zone 1, and a rally at the end. Last year, there were speeches from the organisers for its 10th anniversary, talks from activists who campaign against the unfair treatment of women in the sex industry, and spoken word. The main tone of the night was of weariness – one of the organisers began her piece by proclaiming “None of us should be here, not after 10 years of this protest”. But of course we were all drawn there, because we know that there is a problem on our streets.
I’m appalled by how many stories I hear every day from my friends who have suffered violence or harassment on the streets. I’m sick of having to slow down, clutch my keys between my fingers and brace myself every time I hear someone walking behind me when I’m on my own at night – and then I reel at the guilt I feel when they walk past me. And mostly, I’m just tired of being scared.
Reclaim the Night 2015 is on Saturday 28th November.