⚠️ Content warning: this article refers to male violence, femicide, domestic abuse and rape.
Later that week, we learned that another woman, Sarah Everard, had gone missing and subsequently been murdered, this time allegedly at the hands of a police officer. Since Sarah’s death (at the time of writing just two months later) there have been 28 more femicides in the U.K.. Globally, in 2017, 87,000 femicides were recorded – that’s a female being murdered approximately every six minutes around the world.
As our thoughts remained with Sarah’s family, we also remembered the 116 women we know died violently in the previous year in the U.K., the 149 the year before, and all those we know about since records began. In that time, millions of women in the U.K. will have also been subjected to rape and domestic abuse at the hands of their current / ex partner or other male. Latest ONS figures suggest 1 in 20 women will have experienced rape or rape attempts, and at least 1.6 million women will have suffered domestic abuse.
Many women have also spoken of their fears in reporting to the police, and flagged institutional misogyny in policing. The Centre for Women’s Justice Super-Complaint and subsequent Channel 4 coverage, highlighted one woman a week is coming forward to report their serving police officer partner has subjected them to domestic abuse. It was described by one former police commander as an “epidemic within the force”.
A long overdue national conversation began.
Women like me up and down the country, who know what it’s like to feel unsafe walking home – and in their own home – became more vocal. We felt frustrated at having to take precautions to stay safe (and being blamed for what happens to us even when we did), whilst many avoided talking about the significant reason we needed to, that being mainly: abusive and violent men.
Predictably, and at the same time alarmingly, voicing this opinion was met with defensive, derailing and minimising comments accusing campaigners of being “anti-men” and “male bashing”. Exclamations included “not all men” and “whataboutery” from many quarters – including other women.
And I get it. The possibility that if a man you’re close to isn’t a perpetrator, he probably knows one – it’s a hard reality to face. Meanwhile, my timeline stayed quiet from those same male allies who made a pledge on 8th March to stand with us.
The thing is, we can and do accept that men can be – and are – victims too. We know that not all men are abusive BUT we need to talk about the fact that some males are. We should – and need – to be able to have a conversation about women’s safety – and the types of violence against women and girls – and who in the main puts them at risk. Even men are overwhelmingly at risk from other men.
I began a personal plan of action: here’s what it has looked like so far, I’ve added some thoughts in case it helps inspire yours:
• Use different platforms: On 13th March, I wrote this article about why we need to have a conversation about male violence and women’s safety. (It also explains why the “not all men” narrative and “whataboutery” is unhelpful, and how men can help.) Encouragingly, campaigners are coming forward like YesAllMen, and I’ve since seen and had helpful interaction with male allies on social media, who seem keen to hold a dialogue and take useful action.
Worryingly though there are other people – and organisations – out there who will say they take this issue seriously but their actions are more performative than progressive eg ticking a box. I recently attended an event billed at opening a healthy dialogue about women’s safety, only for the male facilitator to give the majority of the platform over to people who engaged in exactly the “not all men” and “whataboutery” that doesn’t help. You will also be met by uninformed or ill-informed comments especially on social media, particularly those trying to ignore or perpetuate the problem. So it’s important you pick and choose who to engage with and stay safe, especially online. Protect your mental health too; know your bandwidth for having these conversations and how much energy you have to participate.
• Engage with Police: As part of an Independent Advisory Group (IAG), I have been able to open a dialogue with our local police service to ask what their strategy is to tackle male violence, including domestic abuse. The Chief Constable warmly welcomed a conversation and has promised to include me and colleagues in discussions that can help shape meaningful change. They also released a statement with partners, that demonstrated that women’s safety is and must be a priority too.
You could ask who the domestic abuse lead is (for example) within your local police, to see if they welcome a dialogue. You could also see if they’re recruiting members for their IAG, whose purpose is to give the community a voice in police decision-making and provide advice on developing successful partnerships.
Engage with Communities: I’m part of several groups from our local area who also kindly help me understand and raise awareness of different challenges they face. Having an intersectional approach when helping people, means (for example) acknowledging that systemic discrimination due to a person’s sexuality, gender and gender identity, race and ability may adversely affect someone’s access to support.
Conversations with community groups are a key part of understanding these challenges. You could ask questions in your workplace or via business networks (see below), contact your local volunteering centre, join relevant Facebook groups or speak to different community leaders, or ask to visit (for example) your local Women’s Centre to make sure that the needs of your community are being heard and understood.
Have conversations at work: In recent years I’ve supported the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Abuse. This highlights that workplaces have a duty of care to provide an infrastructure that supports and protects victims and survivors. A recent BBC article explained the importance of paid leave (for example) for those subjected to domestic abuse.
You could ask your organisation if they have a policy that helps victims, or ensure that people at work know the signs and how to help; this could include checking on welfare as part of a 1-1. To make sure that companies are held to account, we could ask or encourage websites like Glass Door to include a rating as to whether or not the company is a safe place to work. Recruiters could also include notes on their website about whether an employer has a policy and infrastructure that helps protect people from domestic abuse.
• Reach out to Government: I recently wrote to my MP and our new Police and Crime Commissioner to make them aware of the A Fearless Future campaign by Stylist Magazine; the PCC has since made a strong commitment that local services will be funded appropriately. I and other colleagues had also been talking with the Chief Executive of the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner prior to that, to look at how local services can meet the needs of victims.
PCCs are elected to make sure that local police meet the needs of the community. They also have responsibilities under the The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. You can find out more about them, including who is yours, here.
• Work with agencies: Prompted by research from Kent and Medway NHS Trust, I contacted our local branch of Samaritans to ensure that the link between domestic abuse and suicide – both by victims and perpetrators – is on the campaign agenda. They have passionately engaged with a view to raising awareness.
I also became a Community Ambassador for Women’s Aid. This isn’t a paid role, but part of a scheme called “Change that Lasts – Ask Me”. It identifies that communities which come together, raise awareness of and help break the silence around domestic abuse, can create meaningful change. Part of the role is to ensure that we talk about the signs and prevention of domestic abuse without victim blaming, and recognise that perpetrators are responsible for the harm they cause. We as communities (including statutory authorities) are encouraged to listen, believe and take helpful action (eg signposting) without judgement.
This is just the beginning. There is more work to do.
Whilst many organisations – including policing – could assert that “we’ve come a long way”, the change that’s needed isn’t being seen by those most affected. So whilst we continue a plan of action, we also rely on decision makers and communities being ready – and willing – to listen and create meaningful change that lasts. In doing so, we can strive to make the world a safer and healthier place for everyone.
Delphi is a qualified counsellor, well-being trainer and campaigner for the awareness and prevention of domestic abuse. To find out more about her click here.
Copyright Delphi Ellis 2021 – updated 22/5/21