It is eight thirty am on a rainy Tuesday morning in the city centre of Scotland’s largest city. Commuters are spilling out of Glasgow Central Station, heads buried against the downpour and cold hands clutching obligatory coffee cups to fuel them for the day ahead. A few solitary buskers tentatively strum a few notes, gauging the inattentive crowd. The atmosphere is one of muted urgency mingled with bleary tiredness as workers jostle towards offices, the city and its inhabitants having not quite woken up yet. It is a scene likely to be found in most other bustling metropolises during the weekday morning rush hour. However, there is a sinister blight penetrating the city which has become impossible to ignore. Recently, there has been a string of violent and seemingly unconnected rapes throughout Glasgow and its suburbs, raising fearful alarm for the safety of women on the streets of their hometown.
Last night, nearly five thousand marchers (women, men, and children) took to the streets of the Southside of Glasgow to stage a peaceful walk to raise awareness and show solidarity with the victims of rape crime. The ‘These Streets Are Made For Walking’ event was organised via social media by two female residents of Govanhill, and gained significant backing and attention from media and politicians. Its further impact as of yet remains to be seen, but the support and furor it has generated from a city who will not tolerate living in the shadow of fear is promising. Of course, ‘stranger’ rapes are just the tip of the iceberg of what is infact a dauntingly momentous issue. Alarming statistics indicate that rape in Scotland has risen by almost thirty percent in the last year, and calls to Rape Crisis centres have also seen a massive increase. It is difficult to determine whether rape attacks have actually increased overall, or whether more victims are just now finding the courage and support necessary to report it. If the latter is true, then the statistical upsurge burgeons positive hope in a twofold way; it encourages other victims to speak out as well as demanding that the issue is tackled by the authorities. The problem increasingly unravels when questions are asked as to why sexual violence is so widespread. Are we are living in a society in which misogynistic values are deep-seated and perforating? Kirsty Wark recently investigated this apparent culture of misogyny in the BBC documentary ‘Blurred Lines’, highlighting in particular the relentless force of social media and how it easily spreads the flippantly abusive attitudes towards women. The documentary made for disturbing yet relentlessly important viewing, crucially highlighting that this problem is very much an enduring one.
Glasgow may feel, at present, particularly vulnerable and afraid. However, sexual violence against women is not restricted by postcode and the issue is part of a global problem which manifests on a local scale, from the relatively affluent suburbs of Glasgow to the poverty stricken corners of the Republic of Congo. There are horrors unfolding daily throughout the world – highly documented reports from South Sudan, the Congo, and India have adorned the national papers in recent months. The outrage and condemnation sparked by such disclosure needs to be elevated to the next level and foster action. It goes without saying that tackling rape and sexual assault should not be seen as a purely ‘Feminist’ issue – it is a social problem in which the involvement and assistance of men is imperative for the success of any potential solution. Indeed, the majority of men are as disgusted and frightened as women are for the safety of their wives, daughters, sisters, and friends. Their continued physical, verbal, and emotional support is necessary.
Of course, the solution to the problem is not obvious nor will it be found overnight. Crucially, the continuous reporting, marching, and documenting of the issue of rape must persevere until the Government is pressured into investing significant time, money, and brainpower into tackling the problem. Positively, at least in Scotland, rape seems to be losing its ‘taboo’ label. This is of the utmost importance. What begins on a local scale will hopefully diffuse and reverberate on a national and ultimately global level. This is why the protest walk last night in the south side of Glasgow was – and will continue to be – so important. Glasgow is a city which prides itself on having a strong community spirit and a fierce loyalty to its fellow residents. This summer, Glasgow should be brimming with optimism, pride, excitement; the Commonwealth Games arrives here in just over a month, and the city recently hosted the massively successful Radio One Big Weekend. It is a place known for its friendly and hospitable atmosphere, and so the women and men of Glasgow will simply not accept their city being tainted and their streets becoming a kernel of fear and brutality. Until their safety is assured, women must continue to exercise the necessary caution when walking alone at night and men must remain vigilant in solidarity for the security of the female population. Let us keep Glasgow a city that we are proud to call home and can confidently welcome visitors – perhaps not away from clouds of rain, but certainly away from a cloud of anxiety, vulnerability and danger.