A walking vigil about male violence against women in Manchester was disrupted halfway by a man throwing milkshakes on female protesters. A few days after International Women’s Day, on March 12, the group Manchester Feminist Network organized the event, which was attended by other groups like Women’s Rights Network (WRN) Manchester, Northen Radfem Network (NRFN), and Yes Matters UK, who were collecting donations for their free services for children who’ve experienced sexual abuse.
“Three of us brought our young daughters,” a member of WRN Manchester told 4W.pub. The attendants of the vigil were chanting "Whatever we wear, wherever we go, Yes Means Yes and No Means No" and "Blame the System, Not The Victim," among others from a “history of reclaim the streets women's marches passed through the generations,” according to Gemma Aitchison, from YES Matters UK.
A feminist campaigner, nicknamed Belstaffie, led the chanting about ending violence against women and girls when a man interrupted them shouting “transwomen are women,” which was met by the protesters with “transwomen are men.” According to WRN, he left, and the march resumed. But the women at the back, mostly mothers from WRN with their girls, heard a “commotion up ahead” and saw a glass bottle landing near them, forcing some of the women with children to leave immediately.
“We looked up ahead to see that Belstaffie had milkshakes thrown over her,” while a man with pink hair wearing a dress was running away.
The march went on - the protesters thought the threat was finally over. However, moments later, the attacks resumed. Two women were walking together with four girl children aged 2 to 6, when the same man ran past them, grabbing their sign and destroying it. Then, they said, the man threw another milkshake at Belstaffie, after he had thrown milkshakes on two other women from WRN.
Some of the protesters managed to take a picture of the male assailant to report to the police, and the two mothers with children left “feeling very threatened.”
According to Gemma Aitchison, the event was “a march about violence against women and girls and how the systems are not responding as they should be, women's anger about their right to feel safe.” She was also attacked with a milkshake thrown at her face but tried to reason with the attacker, as Gemma believes that “communication is key to conflict resolution.”
“One of their group said that her friend - the perpetrator in the dress - had felt threatened by us protesting against male violence and was also intimidated now,” said a WRN member.
But, according to Gemma, “violence broke out between the male who threw the drink on me and other women.” She put herself between the man and the other women to stop the man from assaulting the protesters, but ended up being punched and knocked to the ground. “It was a very triggering experience,” she said.
"He then reappeared with his coterie, I assume to admire his handiwork,” said a WRN member. “They [the counter protesters] had followed the march and had targeted another woman multiple times,” she added.
Ms Aitchison gave a victim impact statement to the police, which, according to her, was triggering, as she had lost a sister to femicide and the deposition brought back her experience. Hours after the “targeted attack,” people were found celebrating it online.
“I have never had any contact with any of the group or the perpetrators before this. I have done nothing to them. They decided who I was, decided what I thought and finally decided that they had the right and authority to punish me. I did not deserve that.”
“In a time with a historical high in domestic homicides, Ofsted findings that our girls are unsafe in schools and public outcry on women being unsafe it seems we are to be punished for daring to march about it,” said Gemma.
According to Belstaffie and WRN, the man who attacked the women at the vigil was left with a caution. Belstaffie added that she has made a complaint to the police about the caution and also a further complaint about the “online glorification of what he did to me.”
“Because of what happened I personally don’t have any appropriate photographs of the March - only of the offenses,” she explained, adding that she is “shaken, but undeterred.”
Only when we know about the violence women and girls face, are we able to make a change.
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