Photograph shows: L-R Mel Jeffs, Clive Foster, Ruth Hyde, ‘Clare’, DCC Sue Fish, DPCC Chris Cutland, Lilian Greenwood MP, Holly Swinckels, Ted Antill, Chief Inspector Ricky Twyford
Street harassment against women and its potential to make gender-based violence acceptable in society was the focus of a national conference held in Nottinghamshire yesterday (24 Sep 2015).
Police experts, psychologists and women’s rights campaigners attended Nottingham Trent University to examine varying types of misogynist behaviour towards women in public places from cat calls and wolf whistles to violence and sexual assault.
The ‘Safer for Women’ summit, organised by the Nottingham Women’s Centre and funded by Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Paddy Tipping, featured powerful testimonies from women who have been affected by gender-based street harassment and focused on different settings for the problem including the night-time economy and sexism on campus.
It also included presentations by experts involved in studying the issues behind the behaviour including Dr Jacqueline Gray, associate professor in forensic psychology at Middlesex University and Bryony Beynon, co-director of Hollaback London - an international movement to end street harassment - and the Good Night Out campaign.
The conference arose as a result of the Nottingham Women’s Centre’s research work with the Nottingham Citizens Hate Crime Inquiry last year which found almost 40% of the women who were part of the inquiry linked the abuse they received to the fact that they were a woman.
Following on from this, a group of students completed a survey of local 18-25-year-olds for the Centre in which 88% of people reported being harassed on at least one occasion in the last year, with a quarter of these reporting incidents happening at least once a month or more.
The scale of the problem was also highlighted during the Everyday Sexism Project which invited women to share their experiences of harassment on Twitter using the hashtag #ShoutingBack. Some 3,500 responded so within the first five days.
Melanie Jeffs, the Centre’s Manager, said: “We’re doing this work because the women we work with have told us that they want this behaviour to stop because it’s impacting on their wellbeing. They’ve told us that they fear for their daughters and what they will face if it isn’t tackled now.
“Nottinghamshire is well-placed to lead the way and the time is right to address this issue – women just won’t take this anymore.”
One woman who contributed to the Centre’s research said she had received abuse, been followed and faced sexual threats on multiple occasions walking around Nottingham. Earlier this year, she was surrounded by a group of teenage boys who asked her for sex and when she refused, they grabbed her bottom. When she tried to get away they followed her, swearing and spitting at her. The victim has now changed her route to her local shop and no longer walks on her own after 9pm.
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Chris Cutland, an experienced campaigner of women’s rights and domestic violence awareness, said: “Harassment isn’t a problem that should ever be tolerated or accepted by society or the victims themselves. While not every example of harassment constitutes a criminal offence, it nevertheless causes distress and anxiety and affects self-confidence – all of which reduce quality of life.
“Women quite rightly feel fear and intimidation as the recipient of inappropriate comments, gestures or – at worse – touching and this can have a serious impact on how safe they feel.
“We want to make sure that harassment of this kind receives a similar level of response to other hate crimes, thereby increasing public safety and encouraging women to come forward to report their experiences.
“Nottinghamshire is home to two large university campuses which attract thousands of young people every year. It’s vital that we challenge misogynist behaviour so the county doesn’t become an unattractive and threatening place to live and study in the future.”
Deputy Chief Constable Sue Fish, who chaired the conference and delivered a presentation, added: “Street harassment can restrict women’s freedom and enforce unwanted lifestyle changes.
“It is time for a change of attitude – and for society to recognise the risks of unchallenged misogynist attitudes and behaviour on women’s safety overall.
“The most important thing I can say is that those who feel vulnerable should be in no doubt that harassment, in any form, is taken extremely seriously by the police. I hope this will give victims courage to come forward and ask us for help.
The conference brought together representatives from a host of areas including local businesses, transport providers, city, district and county councils and universities to discuss the behaviour women are subjected to.
Delegates held focus groups and workshops on how best to support women to encourage reports of harassment incidents and reassure them they will be taken seriously and appropriate action taken.
Commissioner Tipping said: “Moving on from the summit, we will be pushing for the development of a new Women’s Safety Charter for Nottinghamshire that encourages local businesses, particularly the night time economy, to act responsibly to support victims of harassment and take reports seriously. It will send out a clear message to visitors to the county and the people who already live here that street harassment is not a trivial matter in Nottinghamshire.”
The Nottingham Women’s Centre helps women to build self-confidence and increase their independence by enabling them to address and resolve issues in their lives.
Among a number of services it offers are regular training courses to improve education/employment opportunities.
Media enquries: Sallie Blair 01283 821012
Posted on Friday 25th September 2015