So – girls – have you ever felt nervous walking home alone in the evening – even if it’s not that late and not that far? Have you ever had second thoughts getting into a taxi – or looked behind you and clutched your keys a little tighter while collecting your car from a deserted multi story car park?
Although it’s not the first time a woman has been attacked and killed while walking home in the small hours – the tragic case of Sarah Everard seems to have provoked a significant backlash about the safety of women for the government to at last sit up and take notice – with Boris pledging that ‘things will be done’ and announcing an extra 25million for the Safer Street Fund.
Statistics like to tell us how unlikely it is that any woman we will be a victim of random crime – ie most crimes against women tend to be of the domestic violence type – as if that makes us feel a little safer. But these crimes still happen.
It has to be admitted we live in a relatively benign area as far as serious crime is concerned.
Yet even in Suffolk – in the years 2019/2020 – 1348 crimes against women were recorded under the Sexual Offences Act – 9 of those involving taxi drivers . And this is the tip of the iceberg – as many incidents go unreported.
So what is it about the tragedy of Sarah’s case that has brought crime against women into sharp focus?
Is it that it was a policeman who attacked her – someone who we would naturally have turned to for help ? Well it’s chilling – but it’s not unusual.
There was another case I read about just today of a conviction in Manchester where a woman was beaten up on her way home by a drunken, off duty police officer. He got a £600 fine and a curfew and kept his job. A derisory sentence that somehow belittles the victim and at the same time sends out a message that would deter no one.
Is it that she was murdered ? Horrible – but there have been plenty of those cases too – even in our quite corner of the UK.
Is it that it’s happened in the middle of the pandemic? Perhaps covid and lockdown has brought more things into sharper focus – although Reclaim the Streets has been campaigning for years.
Whatever the reason Boris is now talking about a task force to look into what can be done – and as a start has pledged more money for CCTV & street lighting and plain clothes bobbies. But is this enough? Or a knee jerk reaction that means things will not fundamentally change?
The fact of the matter is – you cannot legislate for the fact that there will always be nasty elements out there – and women will always be vulnerable to a certain degree. And I do believe we have a responsibility to make sure we take as many precautions as we can to ensure our safety. But having said all of that – we do have a right to go about our lives without fear – and there are many things the authorities can do to make things better in the short and longer term.
There was initially a huge uproar when it was suggested street lighting should be turned off at night to save money. But public opinion was ignored and most towns now turn off their lights at some point during the evening or night.
Felixstowe might be a pretty safe town – but walking home from a friends one evening last year and finding the streets plunged into darkness at 11am, I was I must say really disconcerted – and I clutched my mobile phone the whole way home.
The point about street lighting is – it’s important to make us all feel safer. A lit street is a deterrent as well as a visible safety feature. The ‘we can’t afford it’ argument no longer stands. If this pandemic has taught us anything at all its that the government had an awful lot of billions up its sleeve – and if it is happy to waste them on spurious test and trace apps or sub standard PPE – it can use them more wisely for the things we need to have put in place.
Visible Police Presence
What is the good of the plain clothes officers proposed to infiltrate pubs and clubs ? We want a visible police presence on the streets to make women feel safe and as a deterrent. For a while the police tried an experiment parking empty police cars at dangerous junctions – and incidents of motoring rule infringements dropped significantly.
And once again – don’t tell us it can’t be afforded. If there are enough police to move along innocent couples drinking coffee on seafront benches – there’s enough to be patrolling the streets after dark.
Guards on trains and conductors on busses
There has been a consistent policy in recent years by rail and bus companies to reduce staff to just a driver – even in the face of campaigns by the public and their own employees .
In my view guards and conductors on public transport at night are vital in order to make women feel safer.
I remember catching a late night train from Cambridge a couple of years ago. Through no fault of my own I’d missed my earlier connection. It was the last train and the carriage was full of drunken football supporters making lewd remarks to any women within earshot.
After a couple of stops I seemed to be the only women left in the carriage – and I couldn’t move as they were blocking the doors.
I was fine in the end – but I felt extremely intimidated – and if something had happened I would have been trapped.
What else? Well a better justice system would help. Women who are victims of sexual crimes are often treated as partly responsible ie what was she wearing? Did her actions provoke? This has got to change.
And sentencing – the case of the Manchester policeman is a case in point – he should have been jailed and lost his job – not given a derisory fine and a curfew.
We live whether we like it or not in the internet age – where everything is accessible at the touch of a button – and in spite of continual protestations to the multi million dollar companies that are in charge – there is very little control over what can be viewed.
Too many young men today have got their sex education from watching porn on their phones, and it gives them a poor impression of women and how they should treat them. Teenage girls have spoken out about the culture of intimidation and ‘sex shaming’ that happens all the time from male peers.
The government needs to do more on this front . Sex education should not be left to hard pressed teachers to fit into some sort of once a week social period – but money should be invested into properly trained ‘relationship educators’, and a concerted joined up approach to educating the young and impressionable should be put in place .
And put more pressure on internet sites to clamp down on the more seedy perpetrators. Apparently 48% of children between 10yrs and 16yrs use Tik Tok. There needs to be more content regulators and safe guards. And once again education about how to use these sites safely.
We don’t want to go back to the dark ages – women’s freedoms have been hard won. Neither do we want society to start labelling all men as perverted – or curbing their freedoms too.
But there are things that need to be done and can be done to make women feel safer – don’t let it all be brushed under the carpet again. Now the dialogue has started let’s keep the momentum going and make sure our local authorities and the government make the changes necessary .