“Like my daughter, the Newport victim had a lucky escape.”
Many of us were moved to tears as we followed the TV, radio and press coverage of the disappearance and eventual discovery of Sarah Everard. I can barely imagine how her family and friends are coping, second by second, minute by minute. Sometimes a crime really touches all of us and there’s no question that this wicked act grabbed our attention. Mothers, wives, girlfriends, sisters, and daughters share something in common that, to my shame, I had thoughtlessly come to believe was just a part of life.
Most women and girls experience fear, caused by aggression, unwanted attention, and harassment by men, and those I know tell me that mid-afternoon is as dangerous as night-time. I’ve heard stories of men exposing themselves, groping and catcalling.
One of my beautiful daughters lived in south London and was repeatedly hassled by men on her weekday bus journeys. It became routine. One night she was followed from the bus stop to her front door. The entrance to her tiny flat was down a dark side alley and, thankfully, just before she put her key in the lock, she sensed his presence. The drunken man revealed himself, urging her to ‘let me in’. Wisely, she replied, ‘my boyfriend is inside’ as she dialled the police. There was no boyfriend of course but, had the man pushed her into the empty flat, I shudder to think what might have happened. My daughter was shaking like a leaf and, although the offender was identified and had terrorised other women, the police could do very little because frightening women isn’t a crime. Surely that’s a part of the problem; all of us believe ‘these things happen’. For a very long time afterwards simply travelling to and from work scared my daughter and being alone in her flat made her constantly anxious. I wonder if the brute who made her feel that way has any idea what he did to her, or the other women he’d scared to death in a similar way?
Just last week it was reported that a man attacked a lone woman as she waited in Newport bus station. CCTV viewed later showed him putting her into an arm lock and dragging her towards the park, before, thankfully, she got free and ran. That offender was jailed for just 40 months but we assume, like most criminals, he’ll serve only half. Does that seem enough jail time for what the judge called a ‘disgraceful sexual assault’? Like my daughter, the Newport victim had a lucky escape.
In the ’80s a man pulled a knife on my mother in broad daylight. She was outraged, and he soon fled but it could have ended very differently. None of this is new; in the ’70s she endured sexual harassment in various workplaces, including the police station! How she dressed seemed to entitle some male colleagues to express their inner thoughts although, surely, they knew it wasn’t just banter?
Last Saturday Kate Middleton quietly laid flowers on Clapham Common, hundreds of others did the same and frankly, I wish I’d gone too – without a banner or placard. Under Covid legislation, the vigil was banned, but if I had been Met Police Commissioner, all things considered I would have instructed my officers to turn a blind eye. The police always have a difficult job, but the images we saw on Saturday were dreadful and I believe the Commissioner, Cressida Dick, is ultimately responsible for that. If she keeps her job, it can only be to oversee much needed change. Women deserve no less.