Survey results: Women share experiences of feeling unsafe on our streets

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the

People in the crowd turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, after the Reclaim These Streets vigil for Sarah Everard was cancelled - Credit: PA Wire

The tragic death of Sarah Everard has sparked a huge national conversation around negative behaviour by men towards women, and has led to calls for more to be done to make women feel safer while out alone.

Women up and down the country have taken to social media following 33-year-old Sarah's disappearance to share their experiences of being followed, catcalled and more, when out alone. The Comet has also had several responses from women after we asked readers to fill out a survey online. 

One Stevenage woman said: "I was raised to be cautious, especially when walking alone at night as someone could jump out at you. I have distinct memories of girls only school classes about keeping myself safe when walking alone at night.

"I've always been advised to make sure someone knows where I am and should be, when I'm travelling and when I should arrive. Why would I and other women be raised like that if there wasn't something to be afraid of?

"I was only 10 or 11 years old the first time I was catcalled - I was walking down a footpath beside a road. I was alone on my way to meet friends, men in a van honked the horn several times, jeered and whistled as they drove past me. It's happened a handful of times since.

"When I first went to university they were giving out freebie packs to every new student at the freshers fair. In these packs the young women were given cheap plastic "rape" whistles and the young men were given condoms. Helluva mixed message!

"The fact is that environment/location are less the issue. The root of the problem is primarily societal attitudes and how children are raised. Improving a sense of community might also make things seem safer."

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Many referred to the lack of street lighting after dark contributing to their fears, including one Letchworth woman, who said: "Streetlights go off at night, very dangerous walking alone as woman, very scary. However my partner (a man) says he wouldn't be fearful."

A Baldock woman also said: "Women and girls need safe spaces and safe streets - educate boys and men, take reports seriously, prosecute - a dismal one per cent of reported rapes get to trial - ask women and girls what would make them use spaces more when town planning."

In our Herts, Cambs and Central Beds readers' survey, 44.9 per cent of respondents said they generally felt safe in the area they live in "some of the time", while 39.9 per cent said "most of the time".

Fewer respondents said they either felt safe "all the time" or "not at all", at 5.7 per cent and 9.5 per cent respectively. 

When asked if they felt safe when travelling alone, 78.5 per cent said they didn't, while 21.5 per cent said yes.

The issue is now being explored on a national scale. On Monday, National Police Chiefs’ Council chair Martin Hewitt said: “All chief constables met this afternoon to discuss male violence against women and the experiences and fears that women have shared since Sarah Everard’s tragic death.

“While being abducted from the street is incredibly rare, violence at the hands of men is not.  We hear the anger about the pernicious harassment experienced by women that limits their freedoms.

“This is a moment for us to reflect as a society on what we can do to reduce male violence, abuse and harassment.  Many of the solutions lie outside of policing but chiefs were clear and committed today that the police have an important role to play.

“A key issue for policing and the criminal justice system is the effectiveness of our response to violence against women, particularly rape and other sexual offences, domestic abuse and stalking.

“Too few victims are seeing their cases go to court. For those that do, the experience is long and difficult. This has a serious impact on their confidence in the police and in the criminal justice system and means too many perpetrators get away with their crimes.

“We have contributed to and are waiting for the outcomes of the cross-Government rape review, which has been working to understand and address the reasons behind falling rape prosecutions. In the interim, we have launched and are implementing a Joint National Action Plan with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).  It includes action to improve support for victims, help officers build strong cases from the outset and increase the knowledge and expertise of our officers and staff. There are promising signs as the referrals of rape to the CPS are starting to rise.

“We have implemented a Domestic Abuse Best Practice Framework with the CPS, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service that aims to drive up prosecutions.

"We are increasing the use of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, obtaining more Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) and Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) at court and strengthening the vital multi-agency collaboration to tackle offenders’ behaviour and improve the safety of victims. 

“Chiefs reaffirmed their commitment to the work already underway to improve our support to victims of rape and domestic abuse and help them get justice.  We agreed in the coming weeks to talk to our partners, victims’ groups and experts about what more can be done.

“We also agreed, again working with experts and partners, to consider carefully the role police could play in responding to street harassment. As part of this we agreed we need to further assess the calls for misogyny to be treated as a hate crime. 

"The Law Commission is due to make final recommendations on this issue later this year and parliament will be debating the case for police forces recording where existing crimes are believed to be motivated by hatred of someone’s sex or gender.

"We share the commitment of all those who want to see a legacy of meaningful change come from the truly tragic death of Sarah Everard and we will carefully consider in the coming weeks how we, as police leaders, can contribute to that legacy.”

If you have thoughts to share on this, please email news@thecomet.net.