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Canterbury teen organises city march against sexual harassment and abuse

A teenager is organising a mass march against sexual assault and abuse.

Sophie Hartop, from Canterbury, is calling on people to join her in taking to the city's streets for the demonstration this summer.

Sophie Hartop runs an Instagram page so survivors can share their story

The 18-year-old decided to create the event in response to the "overwhelming" increase in domestic violence, child grooming and sexual abuse reports seen during the UK's coronavirus lockdowns.

The march was originally scheduled to take place this Saturday, but after liaising with the police Sophie has postponed it until after Covid-19 restrictions are lifted - which is expected to happen on June 21.

The socially distanced event will begin at Westgate Towers and finish at the Dane John Gardens.

Stewards will be on hand to encourage social distancing and mask wearing.

Sophie said: "We believe it is important to expose the truth and raise awareness on what's really happening behind closed doors and on our streets."

The march is set to begin at Westgate Towers in Canterbury
The march is set to begin at Westgate Towers in Canterbury

She says the march will give people the opportunity to "stand together in public, to lift the shame off of the survivors and onto the perpetrators".

"Survivors of all genders do not deserve to suffer in silence and our voices should be raised to let perpetrators know that Canterbury does not condone sexual harassment or abuse," she added.

Respect The No - a University of Kent-based activist group which "helps survivors and promotes the practice of consent on campus" - is also supporting the march.

The 2021 UN Women UK YouGov survey recently found that 86% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space.

Referring to this figure, a spokesman for Respect The No said: "We've all heard stories. Some of us are part of those 86%.

"These figures shocked some, others were not surprised but still heartbroken. Sexual assault and violence are prevalent in our communities, our schools and our universities.

"As a city with a large student community, Canterbury must come together. We need a cultural change. We need to keep each other safe.”

Sophie runs Instagram page @CanterburyStories. Picture: Barry Goodwin
Sophie runs Instagram page @CanterburyStories. Picture: Barry Goodwin

Sophie also runs Instagram page @CanterburyStories, which shares anonymous stories of sexual abuse and harassment suffered by people in the Canterbury district.

She created the page in a bid to help those who feel "alone" with their experiences feel connected to other survivors.

"A lot of the time this abuse could be done by someone known to you - someone in your friendship group - so speaking out is a really big deal," she explained.

"If people can upload their experience anonymously, they can try to deal with it in a different way.

"It's about trying to make a healing space."

Read more: All the latest news from Canterbury

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