It’s time to reflect on and debate the issue of violence against women

AS the dust begins to settle on the protests and debates of the last few weeks regarding violence against women, it’s time for some reflection.

Lucy Stephenson (30505350)
Lucy Stephenson (30505350)

You see, ten days ago there was just too much going on, too much being said to clearly be able to make sense of it all.

After a year of media saturation during the pandemic, of continual online comment and noise and updates and opinions, to have another major debate take over social and the mainstream media like it did was just a bit overwhelming.

There was so much being said by so many on a cacophony of subjects all linked by the awful death of Sarah Everard that at times it was difficult to cut through the noise to all the most important bits.

How could you write a few hundred words, for example, on a subject that touched on everything from the actual safety of women to the perceptions, the ‘training’ girls get from a young age to help keep them safe, and the differences between the thinking of men and women on this kind of thing, to the questions surrounding what made the country sit up and listen this time and not others – was it because Sarah Everard was white, pretty and slim?

It had all followed a week in which we had focused positively on the contributions of females in our community for International Women’s Day, when the world – again online and via the mainstream media – had gone crazy over that Prince Harry and Meghan interview, and, locally, in which a government Assistant Minister’s inappropriate Tweet many found both sexist and racist had been followed by claims of persistent sexism in Jersey politics. It was a lot.

A number of women I spoke to around this time were finding it all quite intense. They were passionate about the issues being discussed but, again, there was so much it was difficult to know where to begin or where to focus. And then, as always, they felt forced into defending their own experiences, beliefs and rights as a group, often – unfortunately for stereotypes – to angry men. It was #notallmen, of course, but often those failing to listen and engage with empathy and common sense were male.

Even among some of the strongest, most outspoken and passionate women I know there was a sense of frustration and even sadness at the situation.

One friend in particular explained to me how she had been asked to share her own experiences as part of the debate. After much careful consideration she had declined, she said, because why should women be forced to prove the widely reported statistics about the challenges faced by women. ‘Why can’t people just believe the statistics?’ she said.

As journalists we are continually looking for people to share their stories to do exactly this, to bring to life the black and white statistics into real-world technicolour. I try to do it myself in this column, too. But I had never really thought of it in the way that she saw it, being forced to justify the figures.

So, here’s some figures that sum it up nicely, as put together by the BBC.

Around 2% of men in the UK were victims of violent crime in 2020 compared to 1.3% of women.

A total of 4.9 million women had been victims of sexual assault in their lives, 1.4 million of whom had been raped, or had been a victim of attempted rape.

By comparison, about 989,000 men had experienced sexual assault, including 87,000 victims of rape or attempted rape.

A total of 98.5% of the rapists were identified as men.

The number of these crimes actually reported and the low conviction rates of sexual assault and rape compared to violent crime is also worthy of note.

Meanwhile, according to a YouGov poll for UN Women, seven out of ten women had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public – rising to nine out of ten for younger women.

Over half of women had experienced catcalling, four out of ten had been groped or faced unwelcome touching, a third had been followed and one in five had faced indecent exposure.

Another survey found that around half of women had faced sexual harassment at work. And we haven’t even touched on domestic abuse.

Do we need all the gory details to believe these figures – to take them seriously?

Do I need to tell you how as an 11-year-old child some random bloke grabbed my bottom while I stood looking at kids’ magazines in a King Street shop to show that Jersey is not immune to this kind of behaviour?

Or does the mum who spoke to her teenage daughter in the midst of this recent nationwide discussion and learned that she had been followed recently in Jersey need to speak out?

Do the women touched-up at work Christmas parties by drunk colleagues who won’t take no for an answer need to stick their hands in the air?

Do Islanders who have been the victims of serious sexual assaults need to relive their horrendous experiences for us to take it seriously?

Do we need to talk about how many of us, even in lovely little Jersey, naturally – because its been engrained in us from such a young age that it is the ‘safe thing to do’ – carry our keys between our knuckles if we are walking somewhere alone and it’s dark?

Or how many women remember being taught to go for the eyes with all their fingers together if they are attacked?

Or how as girls and women we are taught early that it can be about what we wear, how we wear it, how drunk we get – about our behaviour, not theirs?

When is too late or too dark or too far to walk alone as a woman?

As I say, it’s a lot.

There was also a female politician in Guernsey who refused to go on the local radio there to discuss the subject recently because, she said, only women had been invited to talk about it.

But do we all stop talking about it because it’s noisy, difficult and overwhelming? Do we share our stories or not? Do we speak up even if it’s just female voices doing so?

The answers will be different for us all, and will likely depend on the situation too and how difficult we may be finding it.

But my biggest takeaway from this whole discussion in recent weeks was perhaps best summed up by our own States police force on social media who said the following: ‘No one should feel scared or intimidated, harassed or objectified at any time. We shouldn’t accept unacceptable behaviour; by reporting it, we can help to stop it.’

It applies to women and men, young and old, and at all levels of offending.

For more comment and opinion pieces, see today's Jersey Evening Post

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