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XX Notes: A Female View of Violence Against Women in Guildford

Published on: 17 Mar, 2021
Updated on: 20 Mar, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational column from a woman’s perspective…

The prevalence of violence against women has exploded in the national consciousness. Pictures abound of a murdered woman on the front pages, images of women arrested and handcuffed by police at a vigil, women declaring “Enough is enough” and calls for women to reclaim the streets.

As your fortnightly female voice on The Guildford Dragon NEWS, I needed to write an extra column and add my thoughts.

Usually, I aim for an “everywoman” angle, and hope what I say strikes a chord with those of another gender. This article may be less inclusive, but I value your thoughts in the comments box.

For me, the Sarah Everard case was especially poignant. As a young single woman, I lived in the road parallel to where she went missing. My daily commute was along her proposed route.

As a mum, I regularly pushed my daughter’s pram around the area the police initially searched. My nieces live around Clapham Common. One could view the police search through her bedroom window. This felt very close to home.

I’m pretty sure that as a young woman I would have ignored the police warnings about attending the vigil. Let’s face it, even our future queen, the Duchess of Cambridge, ignored that, wishing to signal solidarity with other women fearful when walking home at night. There is a natural desire to seek out others to share grief and support each other when affected by traumatic events.

Is calling the murder of one woman traumatic too strong? I don’t think so. As a woman who lived in that area of South London I always took precautions when I walked home from the tube in the dark, even at five o’clock in the winter.

Dark streets can feel threatening for women

I checked bus timetables, double-checked if anyone else was walking my way after parties, declined invitations if I thought getting home would be risky. And certainly checked what I was wearing, nothing short, low-cut or suggestive.

But that was more than 20 years ago, without the backdrop of a well-publicised murder. I would have hoped that the streets were safer now. Apparently not.

When I heard the advice to women from police and the vigil organisers was to stay home and light a candle, I felt an inexplicable anger. Okay, I know there’s a global pandemic, but we are allowed to leave our houses for specific reasons: exercise is one of these.

I lived in the road parallel to where Sarah Everard went missing. My daily commute was along her proposed route”

Given that the main vigil was to be held at Clapham Common, an easily accessible outside space, surely some sort of socially distanced compromise could have been agreed? After all, many people attended marches in support of Black Lives Matter last year.

Reports from friends and family at the Guildford event were that to keep away from other people was easy. The lack of an agreement this time meant there were no stewards, and we’ve seen the resulting police action.

The order to stay at home was particularly ironic when women wanted to “reclaim the streets”. The pictures of violence by police on women have been described as “upsetting” and “completely unacceptable” from politicians as diverse as Priti Patel and Sadiq Khan. Even PM Boris Johnson found them “deeply concerning”.

There are reports on Twitter of officers elbowing women and laughing about it. Saturday night certainly didn’t make public spaces feel safer for women, or give us confidence in the people who are supposed to help us feel safe.

Discussing this with my husband who also used to live in this area, I challenged him about whether he felt safer walking back from the tube than me. “Oh no,” he replied. “I always walked home with my keys in my fist, especially late at night.” So how about in Guildford? “Oh, of course not here.” Mmmmm, not quite the same then. I still do.

The order to stay at home was particularly ironic when women wanted to “reclaim the streets”

So, what are the risks in Guildford? According to the Safer Guildford Partnership, comprised of Guildford Borough Council and other local organisations: “Guildford is one of the safest places to live, work and visit in the country, as Surrey has low levels of recorded crime.”

Separate gender statistics are hard to find for the borough as a unit but according to the national police website, there were 702 reported cases of violent and sexual crime last year in Guildford town.

Figures of violent crime are lower than the preceding two years due to the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but it’s well-known these have caused women to be shut in with violent partners and domestic abuse has increased. Women make up 90% of the victims of domestic crime. Also, I know someone who is one of these Guildford town numbers: he’s male.

A look at the Office for National Statistics reveals that in England and Wales women are more likely to be a victim of a crime against the person than men. But they are more likely to know their attacker, 49% intimate partner, 8% a stranger.

Men are more likely to be attacked by a stranger than a woman. And as more than one person has pointed out this week, this is a male problem.

Whether you are a female victim at home or a man being beaten up in the streets, it’s far more likely that your attacker is male.

So why are women scared to walk about at night? Women’s perception of their safety differs from men’s. This drops in two age groups, women aged 25 to 35, and over 65 (the most fearful are over 75. Only 58% felt safe). The figures bear out the younger age group as being more vulnerable, and these women are more likely to be out and about socialising or working when it’s late or dark, so may have a genuine wariness.

But older women are much, much less likely to be attacked. Of all men, 87% felt very/fairly safe, and even at age 75+ this remained at 80%. This compares with 69% of women.

Media coverage of violence against woman is often sensationalised with big headlines. TV dramas often focus on helpless women and it’s great to see more parts for strong female characters, finally.

Domestic violence, by its nature, is hidden and kept secret by survivors who feel ashamed. But tell women to stay at home and not make a fuss, stay at home and light a candle, stay at home although that’s where you are statistically more in danger than if you go out.

Don’t pay respects to a murdered woman, don’t make your female presence felt on the streets. Policing a vigil in a heavy-handed way? These images don’t make women feel safer, and who gains from that?

See also: PCC Helping Fund Surrey Fight to Stem Violence Against Women

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Responses to XX Notes: A Female View of Violence Against Women in Guildford

  1. John Perkins Reply

    March 17, 2021 at 8:24 pm

    The contrast between the police response to the violent demonstration in the summer and that towards the women in Clapham at the weekend could not be more stark.

    It’s no excuse to say that some of those attending “threw things”, “spat at” or “verbally abused” officers. They had been taught they could do so by the very same force when they knelt in front of their tormentors.

    Don’t tell me the difference is that the law was changed in November, the police still had a choice. They chose to kneel in the summer and swing their weight this time.

    Women might be right to regard them not as protectors, but as bullies.

  2. Susan Fox Reply

    March 18, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    I am so pleased to see this article. I lived in London after I had graduated in a flat behind Paddington Station where the streets were well lit, it did not deter the kerb crawlers offering themselves.

    I also have a long history of attending demonstrations with stewards and a police presence all relatively peaceful.
    As I understand the organisers originally wanted to provide stewards and were told no.

    I am so proud of all those who attended to stand and remember lives cut short by those who whose only way to feel good and powerful is so wrong.

    As a final thought this week on two occasions I saw men (one on a bicycle) force women on to the road into facing traffic. Whatever happened to the concept of politeness.

  3. Emily Woodhams Reply

    March 19, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    Such a brilliant piece from Maria Rayner. I couldn’t agree more with everything she says.

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