'Women feeling unsafe is not a new conversation - and change is long overdue'

A woman holding a Reclaim the Streets placard out of the passenger window drives past New Scotland Y

A woman holding a Reclaim the Streets placard out of the passenger window drives past New Scotland Yard in London, the day after clashes between police and crowds who gathered on Clapham Common on Saturday night to remember Sarah Everard. The Metropolitan Police has faced intense criticism for its handling of the vigil, with officers accused of "grabbing and manhandling" women during clashes with the crowd. Picture date: Sunday March 14, 2021. - Credit: PA

Sarah Everard's disappearance and death has sent shockwaves through the country. It has led to conversations about an unwritten rule for women throughout time to take extra care, being spoken about on a huge scale for the first time in a generation. This wider conversation around the safety of women is long overdue. 

Archant's Hertfordshire titles launched a survey to find out how this issue impacts women locally. While the responses have been upsetting, ultimately they have not been surprising.

Then, of course, you always get one or two people who say it's not an issue - or one in particularly that stuck in my mind: "this has been happening since the beginning of time - women should be more careful".

If it's been happening since the beginning of time and its still making news headlines now - does that not tell you something? Just because something has been happening for a long time, it does not mean we should accept it.

The 97 per cent of women who responded to the YouGov poll on sexual assault and harassment are not lying. The brave women who are sharing their stories on social media are not lying.

We've also been asked why we're "jumping on the bandwagon" with our reporting on this. To that, I say: this is not an issue that has affected just women in London, it is an issue that has affected women worldwide. Stevenage, Hitchin, Letchworth, Royston, and all of the areas we cover, are not an exception to this.

I can say that with confidence as a woman who has experienced it, and as a friend and family member of women who have experienced it.

In an even more shocking finding - research by Plan International UK shows that one in three girls in the UK have received unwanted sexual attention such as being groped, stared at, catcalled and wolf-whistled, while wearing their school uniform in public. Perhaps an argument to put forward next time you are told to "cover up" or "dress more modestly".

It really does not matter what you are wearing. Because it's likely more about power than it is about sex. The intimidation caused simply by saying something creepy, or slowing down in your car to get a good look at the woman walking along the path, I imagine leaves the offender feeling disturbingly gratified.

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Or, some may be unaware of the impact they've had on the subject of their unwanted attention - which is precisely why these conversations need to happen, and are overdue.

A final point to make. No, it certainly is not all men, by any means. However, the vast number of women who have had negative experiences at the hands of the "minority" of men demonstrates the scale of this problem - and change needs to happen. Now.

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