Public response by Gemma Aitchison

This is not a piece I was expecting to write but I feel its best to address what happened on the IWD march in Manchester this weekend.

Now I am no stranger to marches and protests for women’s rights and Manchester itself has a proud history of women coming together to peacefully protest for our rights. I know the chants about consent, about victim blaming, excusing male violence and power to the women passed on through many generations of women from the movement. I have never felt afraid to march.

Feminists have always been labelled man haters and been accused of going too far… although to my knowledge none has wanted to give back the rights feminists have given them. I’m used to people not agreeing with me but I’m ok with that! Talk, share ideas, maybe we will both change our minds on stuff after learning from each other – disagreement is not disrespect.

We were invited to this traditional march the closest weekend to International Women’s Day and this year the organisers were kindly collecting for YES Matters UK. Specifically for our free services to children who experience sexual abuse and exploitation that need mental health support and rehabilitation services. We are proud of the services we offer and appreciated the invitation and offer to collect for us.

This is my account from my perspective. The chants we’re not new but the reaction was. Before we started marching a woman was targeted and had milkshake thrown at her to try and degrade her. Later this happened again, the same male had followed the march, looked for us and did it again. This time it was a milkshake to the face for me.

Now I have never met or spoken to this person before. I was there to collect for child victim support services. I could not understand why they felt entitled to target me like that. So, believing communication is the key to conflict resolution, I went to ask.

When I approached a girl there told me that it was justified because we had shouted male violence at her friend who apparently identified as a trans woman. I explained that while we did do chants about violent men, her friend and group had followed us and not the other way around. That these were historical chants. That I had done nothing to her friend.

I was then told that she knew our group and that we were marching for hate. I explained that there were several groups and individuals. That based on assumptions she and her group had: decided who we were, what we thought and that they had the authority to punish us for that.

Then the same person who had thrown the milkshakes onto myself and others got into an altercation with a woman in front of me. I had never met the woman before.

I put myself between them. I did not do this with force or aggression. I shouted to them both to let go of each other. I told them they didn’t want to do this. I do not condone either of them. Then I was punched in the cross fire by my attacker. I shouted to please stop.

At this point others from both sides tried to pull their person away from the other. This resulted in us all falling to the ground. I tried to get up quickly and put my hand on my attackers leg and they hit out at me again. I thought maybe they thought they were still fighting so I put my hand out and said I’m not attacking you, I’m just trying to get up. I then, despite the fact that I had been punched by them seconds earlier, put my hand out to help them up.

At this point I walked away. It was a distressing experience. I was shaken up by it all and I couldn’t understand it. When I came back, I saw my colleague who was upset about the milkshake thrown on me had ruined the bags we had brought to sell, to make funds. At this point my attacker was shouting that the woman had started it. I chimed in that actually you started it by following us and throwing stuff at us, including me who has done nothing to you but help you and have done nothing wrong. “That’s fair” was the response I got.

Now I do not accept narrative that marching about male violence impacts trans rights, none of the chants we’re about any individual including my attacker who sought us out – not the other way around.

I do not accept that I did anything to that person or the others in the group that justified what happened to me. I have tried to understand why my attacker justified targeting me with the milkshake to the face or punching me but I can tell you that there’s no remorse for it…

Since the attack there has been what I can only describe as a celebration by the whole group that was there. Changing profile pictures and names to milkshake related names and some saying we deserved worse than we got. Again these people don’t know me, haven’t spoken to me and I have done nothing to them. But they feel entitled to incite and encourage violence towards me.

When at the police station, giving my statement I would like to acknowledge that the police were supportive, professional and kind. I would like to thank Greater Manchester Police for this as hearing the words victim impact statement was very triggering for me. Many of you know the last time I was asked to make one was regarding my sister’s murder and we don’t remember trauma – we relive it.

Today I am a bit sore and hyper vigilant. I think that marches about women’s safety and rights to justice are important. And although I will find the next one I attend scarey and difficult….there will be a next one. Violence will not silence!

I have been informed that my perpetrator will be given a caution and write me an apology letter… A hollow apology given the online celebration. I can’t say that I’m happy with this but it is a CPS decision.

I don’t regret going to the march because I did nothing wrong. I wanted to collect for the children we help and that’s important to me. I went to join the chorus of women’s voices who want and deserve to be safe, to be heard and to be believed.

I would ask anyone out there not to label others, decide who they are, what they think and believe – talk to them. You don’t have the right to judge them. You certainly don’t have the right to punish them for not believing what you do. You don’t have the right or the authority. Infadel, Terf and other words used to justify violence against someone who does not think what you want them to think is extremism and its wrong. Especially when you’ve not even had any interaction with them and don’t know what they think in the first place.

We are all growing and learning, everyday being influenced by our experiences and we need to remember that. Not everyone goes at the same pace, on the same path and has the same experiences as I do. Just because I think this way doesn’t mean that it’s the only right way to think. Communicate, share, grow and respect each other!! No one knows it all. One thing I do know is that violence and fear are tools of oppression and not progress. So I won’t let them win.

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