Martha Beal discusses the safety issues facing feminine of centre people in society today
In a BBC interview on the 5th October 2021, Boris Johnson refused to support making misogyny a hate crime. On the back of a year of high-profile violent crimes against women, this statement clearly demonstrates scant regard for the safety of women and feminine of centre people in this country . His assertion is that there is “abundant” safeguarding legislation in place that is simply not being enforced properly. This suggests the PM is well aware there is a huge issue within the police force but is simply neither willing nor prepared to do something about it. While 11 out of 43 police forces in the UK currently do treat misogyny as a hate crime, it is clearly not enough to protect feminine-presenting people against the epidemic of male violence. Johnson also suggests that recruiting more female police officers would help solve the problem of male violence by changing the misogynistic culture in the force, putting the onus on women to protect themselves from male violence. This is a totally backwards response which, as sadly shown in the following cases, we all know is ineffective anyway.
In September of this year, schoolteacher Sabina Nessa was tragically murdered whilst walking to a bar to meet her friend. She was found in a south-east London park only a few minutes’ walk from her home and the attack is believed to have occurred at around 8:30pm, a time when the park would’ve been busy, further proof (not that we need it) that women can never be truly safe from male violence. We are constantly given advice to help keep ourselves safe: use busy routes, don’t go out late at night, stay in touch with a friend or family member when you go out alone. Yet even when we follow this advice, we are still at risk. The problem is not that women and feminine-presenting people don’t know how to protect themselves. It’s that some men are intent on causing us harm.
The murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021, and later the news coverage of her murderer’s trial, has been terrifying to witness as a woman, but sadly not all that shocking. Sarah was walking home from her friend’s house when she was abducted by police officer Wayne Couzens at approximately 9:30pm. Couzens abused his power as a police officer to falsely arrest Sarah and later raped and murdered her in a premeditated attack. This horrific abuse of power by someone from an institution that serves to protect us was perhaps the only element of the crime that has shocked women and feminine of centre people. The fact that Couzens had previous reports against him of indecent exposure, was ‘jokingly’ nicknamed “the rapist” by his colleagues and was involved in a WhatsApp group with 5 other officers sharing offensive messages, including misogynistic content, isn’t that surprising to women because we know that often warning signs are ignored. But how are we ever meant to feel safe knowing this is the case, knowing that our safety is almost constantly under threat and the people in charge of our protection don’t see it as an urgent or important issue?
North Yorkshire commissioner Phillip Allot has commented that Sarah Everard should have never ‘submitted’ to the arrest whilst the Metropolitan Police’s female commissioner Cresida Dick advised to flag down a bus, run away or call 999 if you don’t trust the officer arresting you. These clearly ridiculous comments have been rightly criticised. These comments go to show how blind these forces are to the issues facing their feminine of centre citizens, by putting the responsibility for our safety in our own hands rather than addressing the true cause – misogyny and male violence.
In the case of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, even following all the ‘rules’ for women’s safety does not guarantee protection. In theory, there is safety in numbers, but for sisters Bibaa and Nicole this was sadly not the case, as they were murdered in a public park while walking to a pre-booked taxi to take them home. The sisters also stayed in contact with their partners via text as they made their way home, but all this wasn’t enough to keep them out of danger, a wholly miserable yet familiar fact for women.
Feminine-presenting people are always following advice to try and keep themselves safe in the streets – don’t walk alone whenever possible, don’t wear headphones, take self-defence classes, use main roads and other busy routes, “text me when you get home safely”, walk with your keys in your hand as a weapon, leave a strand of hair in a taxi for evidence… Why do we have to go to these extremes to keep ourselves out of harm’s way, especially when they often don’t work? Entirely safe routes for women are basically non-existent and are coupled with sky-rocketing taxi fares - particularly in London with the lack of a night tube at the moment, A successful petition to reinstate the night tube in London has gained over 100,000 signatures, but, apart from two lines which will have a night tube again from the end of November, the change is not going to be made until 2022, demonstrating the lack of urgency to protect women and feminine-presenting people, despite the extreme nature of the situation.
As a woman, it is hard not to feel hopeless about the lack of safety in today’s world. What makes me despair even more is the PM and police force’s neglect and their unwillingness to make any changes to legislation or even to see it as a problem worth dealing with. Any changes being made have been initiated by the women scared for their lives every time they go out. This will continue to be the case until the people in power have more compassion, understanding and humanity. This problem is being treated as something women are responsible for, but the reality is that it is out of our control. The problem is male violence, and that is what needs addressing.
Words by Martha Beal