The murder of Sarah Everard has damaged public confidence in the police, and women in Britain are demanding answers about their safety in public places.
A new government strategy continues to burden women and girls with protecting themselves rather than addressing the reasons for their lack of protection.
The strategy features a number of campaigns and proposals aimed at reducing violence against women and girls, supporting victims, and pursuing perpetrators. These include the appointment of a top police officer to lead efforts to tackle violence against women, improving data collection on these crimes, a £5 million investment in a “Women’s Safety at Night” fund and to support victims. Including investing £27 million to recruit more consultants.
One announcement in the strategy is the pilot of an online tool called “StreetSafe,” which invites users to log locations on a map if they feel unsafe in that area.
The government also pays attention to safety on public transport, appointing dedicated “transportation champions” to the issue. In addition, the strategy supports the (in principle) launch of “demand responsive” transport services that will bring people closer to their homes than regular buses. Concrete details have not been provided on this particular personal bus service.
Compiling information about women’s safety on the ground and providing “safe” ways to get home may seem like a welcome alternative to the recent police advice for women to “stay home and stay alert”, But there are several problems with this approach.
Digital tools like StreetSafe reproduce victim-blaming narratives that burden women with the responsibility of keeping them safe. They reinforce the idea that monitoring women’s behavior is the key to preventing crimes. Door-to-door transportation services can also reveal where a woman lives, making her more vulnerable and vulnerable to stalking or harassment.
Everard’s case is a clear example of why women may not feel able to trust people in authority with information about their location and transportation habits, whether or not the strategy guarantees anonymity. Wayne Coozens was a police officer who abused his position of power to commit murder. The government’s strategy does not give any consideration to the potentially serious consequences of data breaches, which could be open to misuse by those with privileged access to information.
In the case of StreetSafe, someone with access to information about places marked as unsafe can locate places where potential victims feel safe – and then look for those places to commit crimes.
As well as being potentially dangerous, these suggestions don’t actually improve safety. Instead, they focus on fostering a “sense” of security. The StreetSafe app and other proposals aim, in the words of the strategy, to “ensure women and girls feel safe”. Rather than grappling with the cultural and social complexities of sexual violence, the government has focused on women’s behavior, which allows women to be blamed for crimes committed against them.
In our research on the story of women as victims, we have found that this fixation of security as an emotional issue rather than a physical one has reduced women’s response to sexual assault. Dismissing, undermining, and devaluing women’s accounts of violence, especially when the experiences are framed as an emotional issue, is one reason women do not speak up about violence and sexual assault, and when they If so, why are they often not taken seriously?
A review of research evidence shows that women often report that being overly sensitive and emotionally rejected is a significant reason why they do not report or label their experiences as sexual violence or harassment.
Policing women would rather address those who address them than enable violence or social power relations. Women know this, research tells us this, and a new government strategy – especially one published after such a high-profile and devastating murder – should have reflected this.
Instead, most of the measures haven’t really changed from previous years. The policy expects women to keep themselves safe, while proposing money (and not much more) in new ways to “keep safe”.
These criticisms are not new. The Reclaim the Night movement arose out of women’s resistance against the curfew imposed on them in light of violent acts by men. Similar protests followed Everard’s death.
How often do women have to take these measures before we can focus on the perpetrators of violence and the factors that make their violence possible, and how many more women will be murdered?