Disruption for Middlesbrough shoppers as 'Justice for the Women and Children' march in city centre

8 September 2018

In an organised protest, around 100 people representing the Facebook protest group took the streets of Middlesbrough on Saturday afternoon, to march against 'rape, sexual assault and grooming gangs'

Shoppers and motorists faced disruption in central Middlesbrough as a campaign group marched through the streets before staging a passionate rally outside House of Fraser in the town centre.
A sizeable police presence was required as local drivers and shoppers looked on at scenes that at times became heated, but ultimately never threatened to get out of control.

The Facebook group, which has origins from the Sunderland area and currently has over 4,000 followers claims to "raise awarenes [sic] of Rape, Sexual Assault, Grooming and Child Abuse. We name and shame perverts and confront the establishment on their failure to protect."

Details of the march

On an overcast and wet afternoon, the march took place shortly after 1pm, with protesters carrying placards that included the messages 'stop protecting sex offenders' and included young children wearing white t-shirts with the words 'no more rapes' in bold red lettering on the front.

Accompanied by a loud speaker system playing music by the late Bob Marley, the march left the meeting point of Middlesbrough Town Hall and crawled down Albert Road, before taking right turns down Borough Road and Linthorpe Road requiring the police to halt traffic at each point.

As motorists and shoppers looked on, the group navigated the narrow and busy walkway outside of the Cleveland Shopping Centre echoing cries of, "no more rapes".

It was noted whilst following behind the group that at this point two young girls, out for an afternoon shopping with their mother, had to be reassured they were "ok" and looked visibly scared as the march progressed around them.

Counter protest

As the march neared its rallying point, a small group of counter protesters under the name 'Stand Up To Racism Teesside' and holding a banner that read 'Teesside - No place for hate' were there to meet the group.

In leaflets the group were handing out to shoppers, it began by stating "Stand up to Racism Teesside are proud to stand with all survivors of domestic abuse, sexual harassment and child sexual abuse, Rape, Grooming Gangs and trafficking."

The leaflet continued "certain groups in our communities are frequently blamed and targeted for the above crimes" adding "it is dangerous, inaccurate and... abhorrently racist to single out one group in society as being more capable of abuse than another."

Speaking to members of this group to the background of several of the protesters including children shouting "shame on you" in their direction, they said, "some of them are contradicted each other, some are saying its just against rape, others are saying its predominantly 80% to 90% are Muslim and that's within their group, so that is the problem."

Passions run high

Although both groups were purporting to support the same underlying topics, it was clear that neither felt 'one love' for each over.

As the protest march eventually made its way past the group of counter protesters a loud chant of "You're not English anymore" could briefly be heard from a mainly male contingent within that group.

Whilst speakers for the protest prepared themselves to address the crowd, impassioned and sometimes heated debate could be observed between individuals of the two groups.

The rest of Middlesbrough meanwhile generally tried to get on with what they were doing on their Saturday afternoon, albeit looking on in at the scenes with some bewilderment as they passed.

With plentiful well positioned police on the scene, the situation rarely threatened to escalate to anything further, although the atmosphere at times was intimidating and it was observed that individuals from both groups had become emotional and tearful as a result of the commotion.

Speakers attempt to make themselves heard

Whilst loud disagreements between sections of both groups continued, speakers on behalf of the protest began addressing the crowd, containing contributions from organisers and victims of abuse who bravely shared their stories and experiences.

Although it was sometimes difficult to hear the points made, despite the aid of the speaker system that had earlier been booming out some of Bob Marley's greatest hits, some eloquent and reasoned argument could be heard at times.

This was certainly evident when Sandra, one of the march organisers, took to the microphone and began addressing the issue of historic child abuse in the area and questioning the level of sexual abuse that goes unreported and/or unprosecuted.

Contributions lasted for over an hour, after which protesters from both sides began to pack up, disperse and head for home.

Interview with one of the organisers after the march

Catching up with Sandra afterwards, she had felt things had went well.

"We got our message across, we've raised a bit of awareness, we've had so many victims come forward to tell us their stories."

"It's about raising awareness and protecting people really. I things went well today"

Questioning who today's message was for she said "the victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse, they are the people we want to get the message out to, because they are the ones left feeling like things are unresolved.

"We need people to be brave enough to stand up and be counted, and just to let people know who the perpetrators are. That's the only way to protect people, is identify who are the risks and what are the risks. If we don't do that we are not serving our children well."

Asked why Middlesbrough was chosen, "I live just down the road, Middlesbrough is important to me and I've got daughters, I've got grandchildren and I know its been a problem here for 30 years and I've never seen any demonstration about it, anything in the media."

Referencing an incident she had knowledge of from the Redcar area "these stories aren't published, these stories are not common knowledge."

Justice for the Women and Children plan to hold a further protest march in Sunderland next week.

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