Women’s safety

Women’s safety

Ten months after Sarah Everard’s murder, do catcalls and jeering men still dominate our streets?

Photo by Vincenzo Lullo/Shutterstock.com

Next →

Derry Salter

After Sarah Everard was kidnapped and brutally murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021, outrage concerning the safety of women swept across the UK. It felt like a turning point: women spoke out about the dangers of walking home alone, thousands took to the streets, and the government promised changed.

The government promised change and a huge economic bursary appears to be the first – albeit only step – so far. Police authorities are set to receive a share of £23.5 million as part of the Safer Streets Fund as well as an additional £5 million for the Safety of Women at Night fund. £70 million has already been spent supporting local areas across the UK through a series of measures: designing streets with locked gates, introducing lit pathways, and increasing CCTV coverage. In July, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the creation of an online tool called StreetSafe; the app anonymously pinpoints a location where a user felt vulnerable. This was followed by the commission of a 24/7 sexual assault phoneline created by the Ministry of Justice. Later that month, the role ‘Violence Against Women and Girls Transport Champions’ was introduced to combat ongoing issues on public transport.

A more social part of the government strategy concerns calls for misogyny to be classed as a hate crime. The government aim to improve the criminal justice response to rape by reinforcing tougher sentences and protection for victims through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. This procedure will recruit a further 20,000 police officers to make women feel safer.

A failure of this strategy is the naivety that women feel safer surrounded by police officers. Since the death of Everard and the heavy-handed treatment of mourners at her vigil, women’s confidence in the police has dropped dramatically. Dame Cressida Dick, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, faced calls to resign, despite a contract extension to 2024. This had left a very questionable leader in charge of women’s safety. Commenting on outrage that she is still in her position, Dick said: “I will continue to work with the Metropolitan police and the Commissioner to hold them to account.”

This promise fell short very quickly when the Met Police released safety advice for women approached by a police officer. They advised women to challenge the legitimacy of plain-clothed officers, call 999 if concerned, or even ‘flag down a bus’. This advice was met with uproar and is somewhat laughable. Dick quickly retracted the advice and instead stated that all plain-clothed officers must video call a uniformed officer to confirm their identity. This is not much better and the Met’s ill-thought-out advice demonstrates truly how far away society is from fixing the problem.

Great steps towards a solution have been made in Scotland after Police Scotland’s recent campaign ‘Don’t Be That Guy’, which aims to stop sexual violence at the source. The campaign sees a series of males looking at the camera asking “Ever called a girl ‘doll’?” and “Ever stared at a woman on a bus?” The video confronts men for their behaviour and focuses on prevention, spotlighting the blame on the perpetrators, not the victims.

With a spiking epidemic hitting university nightclubs across the country, it’s clear that women’s safety continues to decline. A nationwide survey claims that 2,600 young people have been spiked since the start of this year. A frightening new method of spiking via needles with at least 24 cases in the past month has also added another fear for women on a night out. These date rape drugs used in the spiking attacks can easily be bought for as little as £9, showing how easy women can be endangered. The police response to such incidents has been appalling with almost 500 spiking cases being dismissed without a single conviction.

It’s clear that the government’s empty promises hidden behind millions of pounds is not enough. Continuously, women’s experiences are dismissed and belittled whether it be by the criminal justice system or even by friends. Since Everard’s death, 80 women have died at the hands of men – Sabina Nessa, Maria Rawlings and Julia James are just a few names that merely scratch the surface on the continuing misogynistic violence in society. According to Women’s Aid, every three days a woman is murdered by a man.  

Convicted predators like Couzens may be spending their lives in jail, but this doesn’t change the attackers still catcalling from the shadows. Women are still afraid of the inherent sexism in our society. Until we live in a society that prioritises the safety of women on the same level as terrorism and other hate crimes, gender-based violence will remain inescapable. It’s institutional and systematic and will not change until the causes are addresses.We should not be covering our drinks, we should not be altering our walk home, we should not have to stay inside after dark. Women should feel safe. This is up to the men of our society; educate yourselves and each other.