The case of a young woman who went missing while walking home over a week ago in London has sparked intense debate about women’s safety on the streets and roads of our cities and towns.
Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. 176,000 people are reported missing every year and there are 353,000 reported missing incidents every year. Those statistics come from Missing People, a UK charity set up to help reunite missing children and adults with loved ones and support anyone dealing with missing friends or family.
This week, the case of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, the young woman who went missing while walking home to Brixton from a friend’s house in Clapham at night, has provoked intense debate about women’s safety on the streets and roads of our cities and towns. (A male police officer has now been arrested in connection with Miss Everard’s disappearance and police are investigating the discovery of human remains in a woodland in Kent.)
Often the debate seems to sway towards victim blaming – admonishing women and placing the onus on them not walk or run alone, or late at night, or while wearing headphones, or wearing certain clothes, rather than addressing the central issue of everyday verbal and physical harassment and punishing those at fault.
Last year, Plan International UK launched the I Say It’s Not OK, to raise awareness around the harassment girls face on the streets here every day and change the law. Research from Plan shows that girls are facing verbal and physical harassment every day. In 2018, 66% of girls aged 14 to 21 told Plan they had experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place.
The same is true for women in the UK who experience catcalling and often feel in danger while simply walking or running at any time of day. Stats from the Mayor of London’s Police and Crime unit show that when it comes to sexual assault, women are almost always the victims. in the year up until March 2019, 87% of all recorded victims were female, with over 16,000 cases with female victims. 74% of victims were under 35. The same report highlights the reality for Black women (who were over-represented) on our streets, with 18% being effected by sexual violence compared to the average 16% of the London population.
Tanya, a 21-year-old from Birmingham, says Covid-19 has made things worse. “If anything I think street harassment and catcalling has actually increased personally for me since the lockdown. You are a much easier target when you are by yourself and there is not a lot of people around you to witness you being harassed.”
On Twitter, the disappearance of Sarah Everard last week has brought the issue of women’s safety on the streets to the fore, and her name is trending on the social media platform again today.
Currently street harassment is not a crime in the UK but organisations like Plan and individual campaigners are working to change that.
21-year-old Maya and her younger sister Gemma, 15, have both faced street harassment. Together they have launched a campaign with the aim of creating a specific law against street harassment. Their petition to make public sexual harassment (PSH) a criminal offence in the UK currently has over 225,127 signatures.
Another young campaigner, student Evie Hairsine, is working to get better lighting in parks across Sheffield.
Plan says the harassment of girls and women is going unreported and unpunished and is working to make it a crime with their #CrimeNotCompliment campaign.
Anyone who has seen Ms Everard or who has information that may assist the investigation should call the Police Incident Room on 0208 785 8244.
Contact Missing People UK if you have been affected by someone going missing.