Men and boys in a British city rocked by horrific crimes against women will be coached to become “active bystanders”, able and prepared to challenge misogynistic behaviour as part of a range of safety initiatives.
The training is to take place in schools, businesses and social settings such as sports clubs across Plymouth, with males being taught how to challenge inappropriate behaviour and language aimed at women and girls.
Other recommendations made by the Violence Against Women and Girls Commission for Plymouth include encouraging organisations – from shops to universities and NHS trusts – to appoint champions in charge of driving forward fundamental changes in attitudes and introducing a charter mark for them to work towards.
The commission was set up after the abduction and murder of Bobbi-Anne McLeod, 18, who was kidnapped at a bus stop in Plymouth and murdered by Cody Ackland, 24, a local musician fascinated by serial killers. Ackland was jailed for at least 30 years last week and McLeod’s funeral took place in Plymouth on Thursday.
Her murder in November 2021 came three months after Jake Davison, 22, an apprentice crane operator who harboured extreme misogynistic views, shot dead five people in the city, including his mother.
A report published by the commission on Friday says the city must bring in changes to make it easier for women to report threats and violence and feel empowered to speak out against harassment. It calls for improvements to streets and transport systems to make the city more secure.
Relevant organisations will be asked to develop “a coordinated response” to identify men and boys who are violent or abusive, with a focus on supporting them to change. A Plymouth violence against women and girls “strategic lead” will be appointed.
Rebecca Smith, the chair of the commission, said: “Violence against women and girls happens on a daily basis, be it in an email or text, verbally or physically. We can’t stand by and do nothing. We must tackle male violence against women and girls at the root.”
Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor for north-west England who worked on the Rochdale grooming scandal, said the commission’s report was “bold and brave”. Afzal, who advised the commission, said: “At its heart is the understanding that we can’t repeat the same mistakes and that we must address the causes and not just the consequences.”
More than 1,300 local people gave evidence to the commission including many women who have been assaulted, stalked and abused. Almost 80% of people – mainly women and girls – who took part in an online survey said they felt unsafe when out after dark. Almost two-thirds reported experiencing intimidating male behaviour when out.
Young men in particular flagged up that they felt the internet was a place of “toxic masculinity” and too-easily accessible pornography.
The report says that while everyone is responsible for creating a change in culture, “men and boys can be particularly effective in challenging the inappropriate behaviour of other men”. The city has already started to roll out its active bystander training but will now ramp this up.