2021 was ‘watershed moment’ for women’s safety, campaigner says

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  • Andrea Heinemann Simon
    American activist (1909-1994)
People turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, for a vigil for Sarah Everard (PA) (PA Wire)
People turn on their phone torches as they gather in Clapham Common, London, for a vigil for Sarah Everard (PA) (PA Wire)

The last year has been “a watershed moment” for women’s safety, after a series of high-profile killings thrust male violence into the spotlight, a charity boss and campaigner has said.

Andrea Simon, head of the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW), said 2021 had been an “unprecedented year”, but said efforts to further protect women had not gone far enough.

It came after a year which saw the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens, the suspected murder-suicide of Gracie Spinks by her alleged stalker Michael Sellars, and the conviction of Danyal Hussein for the murder of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in 2020.

The deaths of police community support officer Julia James and teacher Sabina Nessa were also subject to high-profile murder investigations this year. Male suspects have been charged in each case.

Ms Simon told the PA news agency: “We’ve had case after case of high-profile murders and killings of women.

People viewing floral tributes left at the bandstand in Clapham Common, London, for Sarah Everard (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)
People viewing floral tributes left at the bandstand in Clapham Common, London, for Sarah Everard (Victoria Jones/PA) (PA Wire)

“But it’s also been an unprecedented year in terms of how much we’re talking about violence against women and girls, which means that for many it feels like a watershed moment, like there’s an opportunity now to really do something to end violence against women.

“However, I think many of the solutions and the responses from Government and in the criminal justice system, have missed the mark.

“We haven’t gone as far as we should have done. And we haven’t moved as quickly in terms of making things better for women and girls who report abuse.”

The murder of marketing executive Ms Everard, 33, in Clapham, south London, prompted an outpouring of protest over women’s safety, and resulted in an additional 180,000 contributions to the Government’s Violence Against Women and Girls strategy.

Sarah Everard was murdered by off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens (Family handout/PA) (PA Media)
Sarah Everard was murdered by off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens (Family handout/PA) (PA Media)

It caused a range of new measures to be floated, included a public campaign “focused on creating behavioural change” to challenge misogyny in society, as well as pledges to ensure police know how to effectively respond to allegations.

The Government also said it would look at whether street design features could help improve personal safety in public.

And its first Rape Review, also published this summer, resulted in the rollout of justice scorecards designed to show how well cases are being handled, and a focus on investigating the behaviour of the suspect rather than the alleged victim, as well as an apology and pledge to reverse its dismal record on rape.

Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were murdered by Danyal Hussein (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)
Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman were murdered by Danyal Hussein (Metropolitan Police/PA) (PA Wire)

Ms Simon said: “It’s not a new issue – but we’re talking about it now.

“Even though we’re having these conversations, the conversations have not moved to focusing on men’s behaviour, and how we can deal with male perpetrators of abuse.

“A lot of the responses from Government – for example, increased CCTV and street lighting – are still putting the onus on women and girls to change their behaviour, and to modify where they go and when they go, in order to keep themselves safe.

“We cannot do that – the focus has to be on preventing and tackling male violence.”

Members of the public attend a vigil in memory of Sabina Nessa, who was killed in September (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)
Members of the public attend a vigil in memory of Sabina Nessa, who was killed in September (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said it was not right that women and girls should feel the need to change their routes home, or the clothing they wear, in order to feel safe from men.

He said: “We’re going to tackle the behaviour of men that’s leading them to feeling scared, and it starts at school.

“It starts with boys being told how to respect girls, and about healthy relationships.”

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