Council and MP speak out on safety for women in Kingston

Whilst the murder of Sarah Everard is causing women to re-think their safety in Kingston, the Council is promising to toughen existing measures and further protect women on the streets.

Fears have grown, particularly for women, following the case of marketing executive Sarah Everard, 33, whose body was found in Ashford, Kent, after her sudden disappearance from Clapham Common on March 3rd. The case sparked national concerns around sexual harassment and abuse in local communities, leaving many women in Kingston worried about their own safety.

So as anxieties over female safety increase across the borough, pressures on the council are mounting to protect women on the streets.

Lily, 25, who has worked in Kingston for many years, said: “I think now especially after everything that’s happened with Sarah Everard, it’s completely changed the way I live and go about my day-to-day business. I’ve gone from being more careless. I walk around Kingston high street now with one headphone instead of two.”

“I’ve had to walk around the block multiple times and take different routes because someone’s been following me” she added.

More than 18,800 sexual assaults were reported in 2020 across London, affecting on average 2 people per 1,000 residents.

In Kingston, with a population of 176,000, Metropolitan police data reveals a total of 420 sexual assaults between January and December 2020.

The growing concerns nationally have led many women to concern for their safety even during the daytime.

Lily said: “The fact that women are living in fear is preventing them from doing what they want to do. Without men even being nearby, it’s just that fear that’s causing people to live differently even in the daytime.”

Sarah Everards remains were found in woodland near Ashford, Kent, in March

Sarah Everard’s remains were found in woodland near Ashford, Kent, in March

“We’re being robbed of our autonomy and now living in this heightened anxiety” she added.

People are generally less concerned about their safety throughout the daytime due to business, retail and leisure opportunities the town has to offer. However, Kingston begins to feel more dangerous after usual business hours and has long made people feel more at risk when walking the streets after dark.

In October 2020, a man was arrested for serious sexual assault of a woman in All Saint’s Church after she was reported missing.

Kingston is also well known for its night life and is home to a number of bars and nightclubs, which attracts university students and people from within and outside the Borough.

Arianne, 26, a frequent visitor of the Borough said: “I have been groped in a nightclub on multiple occasions which have led me to feel unsafe at times in Kingston.”

Lily said: “When I used to go clubbing, people would touch me regularly.”

Shortly after Everard’s body was identified, UN Women UK published statistics revealing that 97 per cent of British women aged 18-24 and 80 per cent of women of all ages, said they have been sexually harassed.

Women have consequently shown an outpouring of support on social media with countless women sharing their own personal stories of sexual harassment and everyday concerns of being a woman.

Sexual assaults committed across the Royal Borough of Kingston between January and December 2020

Sexual assaults committed across the Royal Borough of Kingston between January and December 2020

 

Christine, 30, who lives in the Borough said: “Even before the Sarah Everard case, I had concerns about my safety even in daylight. I was running along the Portsmouth Road when a man slowed down and started shouting remarks out of the window which made me feel uncomfortable, so I ran back home. I now don’t leave the house without my fiancée.

I think the situation has got worse during lockdown” she continued.

Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old Metropolitan Police Officer, has been charged with the murder of Sarah Everard and currently faces trial after human remains were discovered near his home in Kent. Just three days before Everard’s disappearance, Couzens was accused of indecent exposure at a McDonald’s in South London, leading to greater distrust amongst women.

Arianne said: “The Sarah Everard incident that happened of course makes me feel worried, especially since it allegedly involves a Police Officer.”

Deputy Leader of Kingston Council, Cllr Tim Cobbett reassured women in the borough, stating: “Women and girls should be able to live a life free of violence and we will continue to work with our partners and the community to ensure Kingston is a safe place to live, work, visit and learn.”

“We have strong links with Rape Crisis South London, our local specialist’s sexual violence support service, and we are working with the Police to target areas of concern and raise awareness about the ‘Ask for Angela’ campaign.”

“We also have a third-party reporting protocol in place while ensuring wishes of the victim survivor are respected, and we are commissioning an Early Intervention Role working specifically with girls aged 11 to 19 around any gender-based violence including sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse.”

Cllr Tim Cobbett, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Communities and Engagement

Cllr Tim Cobbett, Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Communities and Engagement

The Council’s Covid-19 Recovery Working Group which collaborates with the Police, local specialist services and other relevant partners, is also set to create an effective action plan around communications messaging and promises better effective referral pathways, and training for local professionals.

Hearing the voice of the survivor will drive their work ahead and tactical and on-the-ground work will be common practice, according to Cllr Cobbett.

The council is also working with Kingston University around sexual violence awareness and accessibility to support services.

When asked what changes Lily would like to see in Kingston, she said: “It stems right back to education, societal changes, and the cultures from young people. PSHE and citizenship currently doesn’t go into enough depth of basic respect and empathy.”

“Without a deterrent of some description, people will continue to cat call. That’s why online abuse and harassment has such a presence because there’s no proper way to police it.”

“I would have previously said police presence would make me feel safe and that’s part of the solution, but clearly that hasn’t worked.”

Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey also weighed in, acknowledging that “society is letting women down”.

“The apparent murder of Sarah Everard is an appalling tragedy. My thoughts go out to her family and friends,” he added.

“Violence against women and girls is far too prevalent in our society. Too many women feel unsafe walking down their own streets.

Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey

Kingston and Surbiton MP Ed Davey

“We must all work to make our communities safer and help women feel safer.

“The Government must do more to prevent violence against women, as well as to support survivors.

“The Government must also give police forces the officers and resources they need to restore proper community policing that is focused on preventing and solving crimes.

“Our criminal justice system is failing women. More than 600,000 women are sexually assaulted each year, and only one-in-six report it to the police. More than 50,000 women reported being raped last year, but only fourteen-hundred rapists were convicted.

“Our society is letting women down. Women still experience so much harassment and discrimination in the workplace and receive so much appalling abuse online – threats and intimidation, for daring to have an opinion.

“Everything has to change.”

He went on to emphasise how the Liberal Democrats led a campaign to ban upskirting and to make revenge porn a criminal offence.

He added the Lib Dems are “leading the charge now to make misogyny a hate crime, so that crimes motivated by hatred against women are treated as seriously as those motivated by racism or religious hatred.”

 

He concluded: “No woman should be the victim of these awful crimes. And no woman should live in fear of them either.”

On 15 March 2021, MPs backed calls to make sexual harassment in the street a crime at the Policing and the Prevention of Violence Against Women debate. After a recent reopening of the review into violence against women, Home Secretary Priti Patel called for more women to come forward and share their own experiences of sexual violence.

The review is believed to inform Patel’s decision on whether public harassment be considered a specific crime and that existing laws do not provide enough scope to combat the issue.

If you have been a victim of sexual assault, free support is available at Rape Crisis South London by calling 0808 802 9999.

Surrey Comet | Kingston