So it seems little has changed since the late 1970s. According to this Guardian article, following the murder of Joanna Yeates, Avon and Somerset police are advising women not to walk alone at night. Sound familiar?
This casually sexist response by the police, according to which women are effectively being advised not to have a life (especially given the wintry daylight hours!) reminds us of the importance events like Reclaim the Night and the Million Women Rise March. They are as important as they ever were, since the early Take Back the Night marches in Philadelphia and Brussells in the mid-1970's. (A history of Take Back the Night is here.) What is frustrating is that the same argument needs constantly to be made, 35 years on.
When the first Take Back the Night and Reclaim the Night marches took place, they were a direct response to small-minded sexist police "advice" like that recently meted out by the Avon and Somerset police. That is why they were held outdoors; that is why they were held at night; and that is why they were women-only affairs. But recently the focus of many RTN marches has justifiably shifted to domestic violence and intimate partner violence. (According to Home Office statistics, only 17% of rapes are committed by strangers; 54% are committed by partners (including spouses) or ex-partners. And according to this BCS report, only 13% of rapes are committed in a public place; 55% occur in the victim's own home, and 20% occur in the offender's home.)
I have personally heard the view many times that this change of focus makes RTN marches in some sense passé. But this criticism overlooks the fact that RTN marches make for a strong, clear public message, and provide an opportunity for the feminist community to reassert their continued presence and solidarity. And anyway, thanks to Avon & Somerset police, it turns out that after all we all need reminding of the original motivation for RTN: that violence against women is not the responsibility of the women who suffer it.