Right now, women are feeling fearful; women are feeling unsafe.
As Sarah Everard’s family, through their grief, showed such courage in reading their powerful statements, contrasting the beautiful nature of their daughter, their sister, with that of her perpetrator, we stood by them through their pain to show our respect and love for them. Parents hugged their children a little tighter, sisters reached out to one another and, as women, we all reflected on the betrayal of trust as the very people who should have protected Sarah failed to do so.
As I have spent the last few days talking to women and girls across York, each have tried to process this horrific crime. With each statement from the police, we have felt more unsafe, more at risk. First, we are told that we should verify an officer, or someone posing as an officer. So if approached by a person masquerading as someone from the force or an actual officer, whether on or off duty, we are to speak to an operative through their radio. In short, women are being told they should stay put, feeling unsafe, and then talk to an operative to verify the identity of a potential murderer or rapist. To take this action, his victim would need to draw close and speak through his radio.
The advice officers have always given is to move yourself to a place of safety. Flee. Run. Walk. Shout. Do whatever you can to remove yourself from a situation where you feel or are unsafe. Always seek to move to a place where others are, not alone. Don’t stand there, talking into a device, to who knows who?
The Met Chief, Cressida Dick, has called us to flag down a bus, as if a bus would stop or even there were a bus. The Prime Minister has called for more women police, however it was his Party which cut 20,000 police in the first place.
Then the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner said that Sarah should never have submitted herself to arrest, should have known what constitutes a lawful arrest, that women should be streetwise. The very people who should be protecting women, now blaming women. Instead of making our streets safe, saying that we have to know the law and be “streetwise” as if we, as women, didn’t already make decisions everyday as to how we best keep ourselves safe on our streets, at work, at school, at home and on-line. Of course, such horrific incidences make us reflect harder about the choices we make: the routes we take, if our phone is charged, if the lighting is adequate, if we should cross over the road, what we should wear, if we should carry keys between our fingers, if we should get a taxi and, if we do, would that be safe too.
But despite all this, after all these decisions have been made, when a man of such physical stature, such authority, such intent to harm, proceeds to make us unsafe: in that moment of confusion, is it just really our fault if we are then abducted. The statement by the Police, Fire and Crime Commission, has made women feel even more unsafe, not less. It is apparently our fault if we get abducted, raped or murdered. Sarah’s abductor was an off-duty Officer of the Police, he had power, he had authority; he abused both.
And let us not forget that even when women took to the streets after Sarah’s murder, to show their respects at a vigil, it was the police that made women unsafe and treated them as criminals as they went to demand police did their job to keep our streets safe.
I do not want to detract from the outstanding service of police officers and community police support officers or anyone else who work tirelessly to advance the safety of women. In a society where 80% of women have experienced sexual harassment, where rape is not being prosecuted, where women are being assaulted every day, and tragically women are dying every week, there is a tumultuous amount of work that needs to be undertaken to keep women safe.
But as women, we are exhausted of making decisions about our safety, tired of campaigning year after year for our safety and angry that we are further away now from living a free and ordinary life than we ever have been. We don’t want people to tell us we need to do more to keep ourselves safe, we want our society to be safe, police and other agencies to take us seriously and our lives back.
And it isn’t just the police. Agencies have been telling me that City of York Council are not stepping up to the mark. They are failing to act in the interests of women’s safety. Just take planning, as an example, the council aren’t planning out risk, they are hard wiring it. The current legislation going through Parliament, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, is failing to protect women, including those placed under someone placed in a position of trust. This institutional failing is regressing our society, and why we are demanding radical reform.
It isn’t just women either. This week I have been talking to the police about the safety of people on the basis of their race, sexuality, and disability, as well as the safety of women. I have been talking about discrimination due to a protected characteristic. I have been highlighting inequality, not least inequality of power.
Too many people are feeling unsafe, are unsafe, and those that should be protecting us are making us less safe; are failing us. I will be using the platform you have given me to advance the safety of all in York. I have written to the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police and will speak to all agencies. We cannot let another moment pass, without there being fundamental change to the priorities of Government, policing and all agencies. For Sarah’s sake, we must ensure that the cycle of violence against women and girls ends. Let us use this moment, once and for all to reclaim our streets and keep each other safe.