For Sarah Everard's sake we must end violence against women and girls - Rachael Maskell MP

Rachael Maskell, Labour MP for York Central, on the urgent task of ending violence against women and girls.
Sarah Everard.Sarah Everard.
Sarah Everard.

RIGHT now, women are feeling fearful; women are feeling unsafe.

As Sarah Everard’s family, through their grief, showed such courage in reading their powerful statements, contrasting the beautiful nature of their daughter, their sister, with that of her perpetrator, we stood by them through their pain to show our respect and love for them.

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Parents hugged their children a little tighter, sisters reached out to one another and, as women, we all reflected on the betrayal of trust as the very people who should have protected Sarah failed to do so.

As I have spent the last few days talking to women and girls across York, each have tried to process this horrific crime. With each statement from the police, we have felt more unsafe, more at risk.

First, we are told that we should verify an officer, or someone posing as an officer. So if approached by a person masquerading as someone from the force or an actual officer, whether on or off duty, we are to speak to an operative through their radio.

In short, women are being told they should stay put, feeling unsafe, and then talk to an operative to verify the identity of a potential murderer or rapist. To take this action, his victim would need to draw close and speak through his radio.

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The advice officers have always given is to move yourself to a place of safety. Flee. Run. Walk. Shout. Do whatever you can to remove yourself from a situation where you feel or are unsafe. Always seek to move to a place where others are, not alone. Don’t stand there, talking into a device, to who knows who?

The Met Chief, Cressida Dick, has called us to flag down a bus, as if a bus would stop or even there were a bus. The Prime Minister has called for more women police, however it was his party which cut 20,000 police in the first place.

Then the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (Philip Allott) said that Sarah should never have submitted herself to arrest, should have known what constitutes a lawful arrest, that women should be streetwise. The very people who should be protecting women, now blaming women.

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But despite all this, after all these decisions have been made, when a man of such physical stature, such authority, such intent to harm, proceeds to make us unsafe: in that moment of confusion, is it just really our fault if we are then abducted?

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The statement by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner has made women feel even more unsafe, not less. It is apparently our fault if we get abducted, raped or murdered. Sarah’s abductor was an off-duty officer of the police, he had power, he had authority; he abused both.

And let us not forget that even when women took to the streets after Sarah’s murder, to show their respects at a vigil, it was the police that made women unsafe and treated them as criminals as they went to demand police did their job to keep our streets safe.

I do not want to detract from the outstanding service of police officers and community police support officers or anyone else who work tirelessly to advance the safety of women.

But, as women, we are exhausted of making decisions about our safety, tired of campaigning year after year for our safety, and angry that we are further away now from living a free and ordinary life than we ever have been.

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And it isn’t just women either. This week I have been talking to the police about the safety of people on the basis of their race, sexuality, and disability, as well as the safety of women. I have been talking about discrimination due to a protected characteristic. I have been highlighting inequality, not least inequality of power.

Too many people are feeling unsafe, are unsafe, and those that should be protecting us are making us less safe; are failing us.

I have written to the Chief Constable of North Yorkshire Police and will speak to all agencies. We cannot let another moment pass, without there being fundamental change to the priorities of Government, policing and all agencies.

For Sarah’s sake, we must ensure that the cycle of violence against women and girls ends. Let us use this moment, once and for all to reclaim our streets and keep each other safe.