Back in December, following reports of a number of attacks here in the city, you published a letterfrom me about street safety.
Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard and the subsequent national outrage and conversations that this has sparked, I feel it worth restating a couple of the points that I made then.
Lockdown has meant near empty streets at night so would be attackers are sensing opportunities to strike unobserved.
Lighting too plays a part. Lack of investment in and maintenance of our street lighting, means there are pools of darkness around the city that many need to cross on their walk home.
However, these are just the conditions that attackers exploit. The reasons why women are stalked, harassed, attacked and sadly on occasion murdered, are much more deep rooted in our society.
To that end I welcome the coming together of many female voices as well some stand up men, in calling for fundamental changes in how society views women. We need effective changes across the criminal justice system – police, crown prosecution service and courts – so that victims of harassment, attack and sexual violence feel it is worth speaking out to the police if they can see their reports are taken seriously and appropriate actions follow. It is shocking that the rate of rape convictions is at an all time low.
We also need to educate our children, boys as well as girls, to understand about respectful relationships.
Time was when all education effort went into telling women and girls how to keep themselves safe at night – superficially nothing wrong with that except it has made women and girls feel responsible and ashamed if they are attacked as if they have done something wrong. This needs to change. Don’t blame victims! Hold the attackers to account.
All of us can do something: speak out if you hear women being talked about disparagingly or objectified; Interrupt if you witness someone being harassed ( attackers don’t want witnesses so they will usually stop if they realise they have been noticed) Call for help if you feel unsafe yourself in intervening but please do not ignore a situation that you feel instinctively is not going to end well for the woman.
I ended my previous letter by saying that if fear keeps us at home, it erodes our sense of neighbourliness and community and can start us all viewing another person out and about as a possible threat.
I hope that when we do come out of lockdown, our city can hold some event – perhaps in the Dane John Gardens – to the memory of Sarah Everard and in the hope that her death may be the turning point so that finally we bring an end to violence against women and girls.
Together we can change this.
Labour and Co-operative Party Candidate Westgate Ward