Women’s safety is a male issue

We cannot pretend that the Murder of Sarah Everard will be the last by an abusive man. But we can ensure that her muder becaomes the turning point in changes to keep all women safe.

If any good is to come from the tragic death of Sarah Everard it is that we all become more aware of the problems that are faced by women as they go about their day to day business.

Overwhelmingly the problems of women’s safety are caused by men.

Many men are totally indifferent to this issue. “they ask for it”, some men say, “If they dress like tarts what do they expect?” Such men have been built on a lad’s culture which is partly in decline. I’ve never boycotted the Sun because I’ve never bought it and one of the many reasons that I didn’t buy it was because of their page 3 girls.

The last few years has brought a welcome reduction in the ‘lad’s culture’ but it is still strong and reinforced by pack behaviour from lads when the testosterone levels rise, to older men with an attitude of resentment and the need to control. Now women are taking the jobs that some men believe to be rightly theirs. This has caused huge insecurity for many ‘displaced’ men.

Female stereotypes are reinforced by £ billions of advertising. Look at the gorgeous, glamourous women that have been on our screens lately flogging perfume for Mother’s Day. They all seem to be in their early 20s and nothing like my Mum ever was, although I didn’t know her at that age for obvious reasons.  Too many men see this ‘beauty’ and feel upset that they cannot hope to have such a wife or partner. Perhaps if they looked in a mirror more and thought about their own behaviour, they would see why they are lucky for any woman to take them in!

In some ways I suspect that this is an attitude to women that has evolved through time. Until comparatively recently women were confined to the home because lack of contraception meant that they were both either continually pregnant or having to look after the children in a time of no domestic appliances. Far more of the work in society was physically needing strength that is more likely to be found in men than women, although not alas in me!

The fact that this has been a prevailing attitude for a long time does not mean that it needs to be the prevailing attitude now. Women now, rightly, control their own bodies in many Countries. They decide when to become pregnant and how many children and how to run a household in partnership with their partner or husband. As I look out of my window, I see far more men taking their children for walks and fun stuff and obviously caring for them than 40 years ago when I was a child bringer-upper.

But not all women have a partner of either sex. Too many are left to bring up children as a single parent.

Domestic violence is basically a man on woman problem. Approximately 85% of DV is a man physically, mentally or financially controlling ‘their’ woman. You can’t always see it but control or frustration forms a major part of the agenda. Domestic violence has got worse during the pandemic and its lockdowns. Money has become short for many households. People are stuck together, sometimes with children, in accommodation that is good for most times but not when people are confined to it for most of the day for week after week.

Woman will often act as the principal apologists for their own abusers. There can still be in love in abusive circumstances. More often there are practicalities involved. Moving out of an abusive home is a big step into a life for a woman, especially with kids, who is financially dependent on a man and who is unaccustomed to being by themselves. The need for love and companionship is strong in all of us.

A very high proportion of the murder of women comes about in a family situation. Sometimes its intentional and sometimes it’s not intentional but is a result of the ‘normal’ violence within a family going too far. The result has been more deaths and more children being taken into care. Our Councils and the Police who are often the first responders simply do not have the resources to deal with this adequately. Social workers get blamed for a lot but often they simply are trying to assist too many stressed families.

So, what can we do about it?

Firstly, men must take far more responsibility for their own behaviour and those they associate with. Groups of men ogling women and making comments about them isn’t a bit of fun but can be highly threatening.

Secondly, those of us who do not behave in that way must be far more challenging of those that do. Too often I have not been as strong as I should have been when there has been bad behaviour. This is not always easy. Gross sexist behaviour is as likely to be caused by alcohol than it is by testosterone although interestingly drugs do not usually have the same effect.

Thirdly, all men must be more aware of the geography in which they are. The other day I was working along Queens Drive when a young woman came of out a side street about 10 yards in front of me. We were walking at roughly the same pace in the same direction. No problem then. After the woman had looked back at me three times, I realised that she was worried about me. I just crossed the road to make it easier for her.

I discussed this with Erica later and she told me how she is always observant about the place she is in and seeks certain routes home if she is out after dark based not on proximity but on the number of pedestrians about and the quality of the street lighting. I will now try to become more woman aware in a variety of settings where I just have never really thought about my own personal safety in the same way.

Fourthly, we as a society need to challenge the big advertisers and publishers who continue to present women as objects of sexual beauty and desire. I don’t know how to do that or how far we can or should do it. The beauty of men or women is no bad thing, although it is always in the eye of the beholder.

Fifthly we need to educate young men better and by this I do not just mean things that teachers do. They already have a lot on their plates. How do we all support adolescent boys who can turn into nasty men to not repeat the sins of previous generations.

Sixthly, how do we break inappropriate family circumstances? It’s a sad fact that an abused wife was an abused child who became abused adult, who abuses children………..!! Leaving aside the moral reasons for tackling these matters there is a financial one. Dealing with issues like these and picking up the pieces from inappropriate behaviour costs £billions. Doing the right thing with upfront support for a range of programmes saves money spent in picking up the pieces later.

Let the name Sarah Everard be blazed onto our consciousness now. Let us all make this a turning point in the way we create a society where men and women are truly equal.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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