The Leeds Women Against Violence Against Women March

Leeds Women Against Violence Against Women March (22 November 1980)
City Square
On the weekend of 22nd November 1980 the National Women’s Liberation Conference was convened in Leeds, organised by Women against Violence against Women. During this conference, around 500 women – angry about the Police investigation into the Yorkshire Ripper murders and the prospective curfew for women – organised a protest march from City Square to Briggate. On their way from Merrion Street to Woodhouse Lane the protesters attacked men who they suspected of being the Ripper, vandalised cars and attempted to break into BBC TV studios. The march ended in Briggate where the Odeon and Plaza Cinemas were attacked for showing soft porn films.

By November 1980 the Yorkshire Ripper had been terrorising Yorkshire for five years and had already killed at least twelve women. There was mass public frustration with how the police were handling the investigation, as it was seen that the police were not getting any closer to catching the Yorkshire Ripper. This frustration with the police and the Yorkshire Ripper investigation reached a boiling point after the murder of Jacqueline Bell on the 17th November 1980. Jacqueline Bell, originally from Teeside, was a student at The University of Leeds. Jacqueline’s body was found at the back of the Arndale Centre in Headingley.

Yorkshire Post, November 18, 1980, p.1 

Initially the police did not think that the murderer of Jacqueline Hill was the Yorkshire Ripper, mostly because the Ripper had not thought to have been active for the previous thirteen months. However as the evidence mounted the fact that this was the Yorkshire Ripper’s thirteenth murder could not be denied.

After death of Jacqueline Hill, West Yorkshire Police advised women to stay indoors after nightfall. This caused great anger with the Women against Violence against Women Leeds group, as they saw the curfew as women being blamed for the wrongdoing of one evil man. This front page from the Leeds Other Paper, 28th November 1980, shows the anger against the curfew. The Leeds Other Paper here shows clearly how women were feeling victimised and oppressed by the curfew.

Leeds Other Paper, November 28, 1980, p.1

For twenty years from 1974, the Leeds Other Paper provided an alternative slant on life in the city, announcing its arrival with the mission statement: “It is our intention to support all groups active in industry and elsewhere for greater control of their own lives.” For the first time, LGBT readers found event listings, reviews and advice included within a title aimed at a wider readership of Leeds residents. These can be found in the Local and Family History Department.

On the weekend of 22nd/23rd November the National Women’s Liberation Conference was convened in Leeds, organised by Women against Violence against Women at the Royal Park School, Hyde Park. The Women’s Liberation Conference sent this statement to the Leeds Other Paper, stating that the conference discussed how societal structures allow violence against women to grow, placing additional blame on pornography and violent films. The conference also created plans to protest against the treatment of women, starting with the march on the 22nd September.

Leeds Other Paper, November 28, 1980 

On the night of the 22nd September around five hundred women from the Leeds Women against Violence against Women movement met in Leeds Square to protest against the prospective curfew and the deemed lack of action on behalf of the Police in the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. The protesters wanted to make the police aware that the curfew shouldn’t be on women but on men, as they stated this this would allow women to move safely at all times.

The protest met in Leeds Square and started the march to Boar Lane ending in Briggate, this is where the march turned violent. The Yorkshire Post states how the ‘Angry Women’ halted traffic and batted cars and buses, attempted to gain access to a television and radio studio, smashed windows at the University, invaded a cinema and splashed red paint on the screen while fighting with the police and journalists. Men who were walking through Leeds were shouted at by the protesters, who were inspecting if they were the Yorkshire Ripper. The Yorkshire Post portrayed the march as a very violent and chaotic protest. One protester was arrested but was later released.

Yorkshire Post, November 24, 1980
Yorkshire Evening Post, 24 November ,1980

Betty Powers, who was on the march, states that the Odeon and Plaza Cinemas were attacked because they were screening soft porn films, in this case Dressed to Kill, which was “sexist and exploits the sexual aspect of killing.” Betty goes on to say, “that the film is bad enough but how dare they show a film like that at this time in Leeds… a film which depicts Ripper- style killings.”

The Women against Violence against Women protest march was a reaction to the Yorkshire Ripper and the menace that his presence had over Yorkshire during this period. The protesters were angry with the societal structure that allowed the police, who mismanaged the investigation, to place a curfew on women rather than men and for cinemas to show sexually violent films so soon after the murder of Jacqueline Bell.

On the 2nd January 1981, Peter Sutcliffe was apprehended by police. Very quickly, the police were convinced that Sutcliffe was the Yorkshire Ripper. Though the Yorkshire Ripper had been caught the Leeds Women against Violence against Women group were still very active in raising awareness of the violence against women.

Yorkshire Evening Post, 5 January, 1981

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