The tragic death of Sarah Everard has prompted an outpouring of anger and grief over the past few weeks, with women of all ages and backgrounds sharing deeply disturbing stories of abuse and harassment. It has been clear from these testimonials that women and girls often – and with good reason – feel unsafe on our streets, and it is also clear that many of them do not feel confident in either the police or the legal system to protect them against male violence.
This lack of confidence is borne of a number of factors, and there is important work going on to tackle them. Here in Bristol, last week saw a timely report published by the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, which includes a series of recommendations on how to make our city a safer place, where women survivors of abuse and violence feel supported and empowered to move forward with their lives. Mayor Marvin Rees pledged to work to end domestic abuse and gender inequality in our city, and the Commission is an important part of that work.
But there are also wider, national issues that need addressing. We know that prosecutions for rape are at their lowest ever level, with just 1.4 per cent of allegations prosecuted. And with a backlog of court cases stretching into the thousands, victims are having to wait years for even a chance of justice. That’s why the Labour Party have proposed that rape and serious sexual assault cases should be fast-tracked through the courts. Its just one of the measures outlined in our survivor’s support plan, which also suggests that victims should be offered free, independent legal advice and representation as well as the appointment of a minister for survivors of rape and sexual violence.
There have been many warm words spoken in the past few weeks about the importance of tackling violence against women, but the sad truth is that it has simply not been taken seriously enough by this Government – and it should not have to take something as heartbreaking and tragic as the abduction and murder of a young women for Ministers to sit up and take notice. This epidemic has gone on for long enough. It’s clear there is an enormous amount of work to do – but that work must begin now, so that we can once and for all tackle the scourge of violence against women and ensure that our streets are safe for everyone to walk on.