West Midlands Police conducted a survey into women’s safety concerns earlier this year in response to the murder of Sarah Everard and the death of Police Community Support Officer Julia James who died while she was out walking her dog in Kent in April.
The force admitted that the two murders had raised questions about confidence in the police and wanted to address this and to better understand the worries that women have about their personal safety in their day-to-day lives, particularly while out and about in public.
More than 2,000 people responded to the survey. In general, the police said the results, which were analysed over a period of months, showed that participants felt safe at home and out and about in their neighbourhoods during the day. But that feelings of safety were lower at night with many feeling unsafe when out in their nearest town or city at night across the West Midlands..
The results of the survey revealed that sexual assaults, men hanging around car parks, being followed and concerns about male police officers’ behaviour were among the main safety concerns women had in the West Midlands.
The force has outlined a number of measures it is implementing to tackle the concerns, including: putting patrols into more secluded areas, stopping high-risk men from visiting areas which they think they may target women, building a picture of the men who regularly display predatory behaviour, and improving how women who are stopped by officers can check who they are.
A spokesperson for the force said: “We are committed to rebuilding trust with those affected in our communities and will continue to improve our services and work with partners, to prevent and tackle violence against women and girls.”
What do women fear in the West Midlands?
The main issues reported in the survey were:
- General feelings of uneasiness and intimidation
- Men hanging around car parks
- Worries around using taxis and public transport
- Catcalling, loutish behaviour, men staring at or talking to women on the streets for no reason
- Being followed
- Predatory behaviour
- Walking past crowds of men/gangs
- People taking drugs/drinking in the streets
- Badly lit streets, dark alleyways
- Concerns about male police officers behaviour
- Media reporting of violence and crimes often increases feelings of unsafety
- Requirement for better sentences for men who are violent
- Man exposing themselves or masturbating in public
- Sexual assaults
How are police addressing these concerns?
Working alongside partners, West Midlands Police said it now has a clear plan to tackle the issue.
Some of the steps it is taking includes working with local authorities, victim services, and charities to address the root causes of gender inequality.
The force will also work to make public spaces safer and also feel safer – backed by Safer Streets funding, and put patrols into more secluded, quieter, darker areas, as well as checking in on women and vulnerable people who are out on their own or in a small group to check they’re okay.
Other steps West Midlands Police is taking includes:
- Using powers called community protection warnings to stop high-risk men from visiting areas where we think they may target women
- Building a picture of the men who regularly display predatory and concerning behaviour towards women. Where they’re really concerned they could go on to break the law, police intervene and speak to them about their behaviour and recording details of all these incidents so they have a better understanding of what’s going on, and where officers should focus their efforts to prevent crime
- Working with the Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) to talk to pupils in schools about treating each other with respect and what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour
- Continuing to work with councils to improve CCTV and lighting, pubs and clubs to look out and challenge predatory behaviour
- Using Stalking Protection Orders, which work to protect the victims of stalking
- Launching a new stalking prevention perpetrator programme with aims to address their behaviour in order to make changes and ultimately stop doing it
- Not asking women to change their behaviours
- Targeting the violent men who harm women and building the strongest cases we can that have the best chance of getting to court
- Improved offender management will help protect victims
- Recruiting more women into policing
- Improving how women who are stopped by officers can check who they are and are reviewing vetting procedures
‘We want to rebuild trust’
Assistant Chief Constable Claire Bell, who is leading on this work, said: “Getting better and getting this area of work right really matters to us.
“We will do everything we can, including being part of the wider discussion taking place in society today so that women and girls feel safe on their own streets.
“We must and we will continue to work harder with every part of the justice system and the communities we serve to rebuild trust and make our streets as safe as possible for women and girls.
“We have always taken violence against women and girls seriously. However, we accept that the voice of women and girls has not been reflected as it should be in our policing priorities and plans. We hope this piece of work demonstrates our desire to listen to you.
“While policing cannot provide all the solutions to end this violence, we have a major role to play in making women and girls feel safe and confident to report, as well as preventing harm and bringing perpetrators to justice.
“We want to rebuild trust and make our streets as safe as possible and as part of this we want to reassure you that you are safe when interacting with us.”
The measures being taken to protect women are also addressed in the Police and Crime Commissioner, Simon Foster’s Police and Crime plan which was published earlier this month and which can be found here.
The West Midlands Victims’ Commissioner Nicky Brennan, added: “There is a pandemic of male violence against women and girls in this country. Tackling this is a top priority for me and West Midlands Police.
“Our wide ranging survey of women earlier this year informed directly into the new Police and Crime Plan. The views and experiences of women is vital if we are to build trust in policing and the criminal justice system.
“Clearly there is more that needs to be done to keep women and girls safe and this plan will help us address those areas where we need to be improving the service the police provide.
“I am pleased and fully endorse that the focus of this plan is around men changing their behaviour, and not women. We should all feel safe walking down the street and going about our business with the fear of harassment and abuse.
“The wider use of community protection orders to safeguard women from men who pose a serious risk to them is very welcome.
“I also welcome the additional patrols that West Midlands Police will be getting into more secluded areas. Our commitment to rebuilding community policing will allow for a more visible policing presence to keep people safe.
“Equally, I will be ensuring that the services that we fund for victims of crime are doing the best by them, are adapting to their needs and that support is available when they need it.”
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