• Interview: Courtney Thompson

Reclaim The Nights & march against violence against women: Q&A with co-convenor

Content Warning: This post discusses violence against women. For 24/7 support contact 1800RESPECT

Are you happy to live in a country in which 1 in 3 of its women are likely to experience some form of violence in their lifetime, just because they identify as being a woman? Just because they breath, blink, move throughout the streets, like regular human beings?

Are you happy to live in a country in which one woman on average is killed per week at the hands of a violent partner?

No, of course you're not, because these statistics just can't be ignored.

We spoke with Courtney Thompson, co-convenor of this year's Reclaim The Nights rally, a march against gender based violence. Courtney tells us more about the rally, her involvement and why we should all care.

The march is set to be held this Friday (28th November) at Sydney's Hyde Park. #doitforher

Tell us about your role as a co-convenor for Reclaim the Nights and what it's all about?

Reclaim the Night is an annual, community-run rally that takes place in most major cities across Australia and all over the world. The Sydney organising committee is made up entirely of women-identifying volunteers or those who have lived experience or experience oppression as a woman.

The purpose of the rally is to protest violence against women in all its forms. This includes physical, psychological, sexual, verbal and cyber violence. In Australia, more than one woman per week is murdered at the hands of a partner and 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime (this is much higher in certain circumstances such as if the woman is also Indigenous or has a disability). This isn’t good enough. Two men died and Mike Baird shut down the entire city after dark, where is this same outcry and dedication to protecting women? Why is this not at the absolute forefront of the government’s agenda to ensure the safety of its citizens?

My role as a co-convenor this year is working in conjunction with Jenna Schroder, our other co-convenor, and Kasandra and Erika, the other two members of our executive team, to tighten all the nuts and bolts you don’t realise go into planning an event like this. It's a whole lot of tedious emails, chairing meetings and being simultaneously excited and stressed. I can also now add “experience in begging Sydney Council to let us do things” to my resume.

2. In your opinion, what are effective ways for those identifying as women to reclaim their space?

I’m a generally confident and assertive person, so my usual approach to this is to simply demand it. I shouldn’t have to ask to be a part of what I’m equally entitled to. This has taken a really long time to get comfortable with, however, and I’m aware that not everyone is comfortable with saying “hey, it is my right to be here and to have my voice heard.” Also, sometimes this isn’t practical or safe.

While I am 100% about women taking control of their space, bodies and voices, and living freely despite the constraints placed on them, we do, first and foremost, have to consider our safety. It’s all good and well to say, “fuck it, I’m going to walk home tonight” or “I’m going to tell this catcaller where to shove his smug face” but until it’s safe for us to do so it’s almost irresponsible for this to be encouraged. We can only do the best with the resources we’re afforded, and I think we just need to do every little thing we can to enable the generations of women who come after us to have access to more than we have now.

"In Australia, more than one woman per week is murdered at the hands of a partner and 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault in their lifetime."

3. You’ve organised some interesting events outside of the rally, such as a panel discussion with Jenny Munro, Subeta Vimalarajah & Andrea Zephyr. What did you take away from each of the panellists?

Each of the panellists that we had for our first fundraiser had such vastly different areas of expertise and it was an inexplicable privilege to have them share these with us. From Jenny I took away the undeniable strength and resistance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

From Subeta I found great comfort in her discussion about “vicarious trauma”, which is the phenomenon where someone gets empathically overwhelmed from engaging with victims of trauma and their stories. This is something I really struggle with, so it was really comforting to hear her talk about how this is something a lot of people experience and that it’s okay to find helping people difficult, no matter how much you want to.

Andrea is a wealth of knowledge and so I took a lot away from her. The two main things are that mis-gendering someone is an act of gendered violence, I think this is definitely something a lot of people don’t understand or underestimate the power of. Andrea also reminded us all about the importance of having somewhere, or someone, you can relax with. Where you don’t always have to be ready to fight and where you know you are safe and loved.

Reclaim The Night 2014

4. You said you copped some Twitter backlash following your promotion of the panel on social media. What advice would you offer to someone else if they were to experience that?

So that was actually, ironically enough, on my personal twitter after I used the #WhyWomenDontReport hashtag when it was trending. I received some general responses telling me I was full of shit and making fun of my fragility and “hateful, leftist” thinking but I also received some threats. It was actually quite terrifying, but I think I did the right thing by immediately blocking all negative posters. I blocked and reported the people who sent me direct messages and I deleted the messages straight away so that I couldn’t dwell on them. Also, making fun of them helped. There’s something just so precious about grown men mansplaining sexism to women on twitter and something so empowering about women laughing at them together.

5. If the RTN rally was a ___ what would it be and why?

a) Fruit – Watermelon: hard on the outside, soft and sweet on the inside

b) Ice-cream flavour: rainbow

c) Animal- Mongoose: cute but feisty

d) Beyonce Song- ***Flawless

"There’s something just so precious about grown men mansplaining sexism to women on twitter and something so empowering about women laughing at them together."

6.The RTN rally was founded in 1978. What do you think has been the most positive change since its beginning and what do you hope to see change in the near future?

I really hope that the rallies have come to be more intersectional as the years have passed. I don’t suppose they were very inclusive of non-binary and transgender people back in 1978. I know that in our collective this year we have done our best to make the space inviting and respectful for all women-identifying persons or anyone who experiences oppression as a woman regardless of race, sexuality, religion, class or ability.

Something I would love to see happen in the future is more engagement from people outside of university circles. Reclaim the Night is something that should be accessible to anyone who wants to get involved and I think maybe it can be a bit daunting to meet at uni campuses with a bunch of politically active students if you aren’t a uni student yourself. I’d also love it if eventually the rally could fund a charity in the future, such as a local women’s refuge.

7. Who do you most admire and why?

My Nan, Pattie. She has experienced some truly profound trauma and hardship and yet still exudes positivity and love and selflessness. I’m constantly blown away by her progressive thinking and her capacity to make anyone feel welcome and safe. She has this amazing ability to take absolutely no crap from anyone but to do it so kindly. She is the strongest woman I know and she is the kind of person I truly believe everyone should strive to be.

The Sydney Reclaim The Nights rally is held THIS FRIDAY (28th November) at Hyde Park 5pm, march starts at 7:30. BYO glitter friends!!

For help and 24/7 support you can call 1800RESPECT or visit this site for more details: 1800respect.org

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