I was extremely saddened to hear of the news of the alleged abduction and killing of a young woman in London. Because it’s now before the courts I can’t refer to the case directly but it has sparked anger right across the country. While it may have come as a shock to many, it is also something that hits too close to home for far too many women.
The case has become a focus for general anger from women at the lack of progress, and the lack of protection in the law for women against gender-based violence.
We may try to comfort ourselves with the thought that abduction, rape or murder are rare crimes. Which hardly makes them any more acceptable.
They may be rare – although Cheshire Police investigate several reports of rape each week in our county alone. But violence against women, especially by a current or former partner – is still endemic with 1.6 million women suffering from it annually according to the Office of National Statistics, and 760,000 police reports of domestic abuse related crimes.
But women tell me that it is not just the violent crimes against women that are the problem. It is also the constant everyday harassment. An unwelcome touch here, a suggestive comment there.
They have told me of the day to day choices they have to make just to stay safe and the fear or at least wariness that they feel when waiting for a bus or walking home.
Some women have spoken to me of their frustration that it has taken the murder of a woman for this to be discussed seriously. Yet, the fact that the government have proposed a Crime and Sentencing Bill in which damaging a statue is set to have a harsher penalty than attacking a woman, demonstrates the misogynistic attitudes that exist at the core of our society and underpin the violence against women.
Clearly there is a role for improving education for boys and young men to instil respect for women. But there is also a role for us men in asking ourselves, are we personally doing enough? Can we learn from our own past failings and resolve to adapt to more respectful behaviour? Would we stand up and tell one of our mates he was out of line if he made an unacceptable comment to a woman?
This week the government brought its courts and sentencing bill to Parliament. There are some good proposals, such as longer sentences for child killers and people who kill while driving dangerously. But there are also sinister aspects restricting the right to protest. These restrictions are not acceptable in a democracy so I voted against the bill in the hope the government will ditch them and bring back a better bill with the good stuff retained.
At the vigil in London for Sarah Everard, there was criticism of the heavy handed approach by the police in dealing with the crowds. That cannot be allowed to become to norm. We have emergency legislation at present: we must not just replace it with permanent restrictions on people’s right to protest