Police officer told Yorkshire mayor she 'should have worn a longer skirt' after sexual assault in 1970s

Beverley’s mayor has spoken about being sexually assaulted in her 20s and her fears that not enough is being done to tackle violence and sexism following recent attacks.

Councillor Linda Johnson, who also Liberal Democrat St Marys ward member on East Riding Council, said she carries a rape alarm decades after she was assaulted in Grimsby “in broad daylight”.

The mayor added she hoped society had moved on from the “misogynistic response” she received from a police officer who told her she should have worn a longer skirt.

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But Coun Johnson said recent rapes in Hull, Libby Squire’s death and those of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard and lingering sexist attitudes showed more had to be done.

Councillor Linda Johnson has spoken out about a sexual assault she was the victim of in the 1970sCouncillor Linda Johnson has spoken out about a sexual assault she was the victim of in the 1970s
Councillor Linda Johnson has spoken out about a sexual assault she was the victim of in the 1970s

The councillor’s comments come after she spoke about the assault at East Riding Council’s meeting on October 6,during a debate about bolstering safety measures for women.

Coun Johnson, who seconded the Liberal Democrat call for more CCTV and lighting in public places and support for safety schemes, showed councillors her rape alarm while discussing the assault.

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The councillor, 65, spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service about the attack on her, the authorities’ response and her thoughts on how society dealt with such issues had changed, or had not.

‘It happened in broad daylight’

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Coun Johnson said: “It happened in Grimsby when I was in my 20s in the seventies. An older bloke pushed me up against a wall and assaulted me. I didn’t tell my parents about it and I didn’t have much of a description of him to give to the police.

"There was no CCTV there in those days either. It happened in broad daylight, so it wasn’t even like it happened in the dark. I spoke to a police officer about it afterwards and he told me I should have thought about wearing a longer skirt.

“I hope that kind of misogynistic response isn’t something that a woman who’d been assaulted would get nowadays. Attacks like that affect you for the rest of your life. You’re always aware that something might happen and I still carry a rape alarm with me now.

“Sometimes when I’m walking alone I cross the road to avoid people and I don’t like going into the multi storey car park in Beverley at night.

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“I was talking to a friend and she said her 14-year-old daughter has one too just for her walk home from school. Nothing’s happened to her but she takes it just in case.

“Whenever my daughter went on a night out I’d always go and pick her and sometimes her friends up too and take them all home. I remember once I was in America and I was walking down the road and a guy followed me in a pick up truck for quite a long way."

‘Unhelpful attitudes’ persist

Coun Johnson said responses to recent attacks, including comments from figures including Prime Minister Boris Johnson about what women should do to stay safe, showed “unhelpful attitudes” continue.

The councillor said: “Blokes don’t have any idea what women have to deal with. Not all blokes have negative attitudes towards women by any means but the killings of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa show this violence still goes on.

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“And Sarah’s case is made worse by the fact that the man who murdered her was a copper. It’s really frightening to think that someone in that position that women should be able to trust was able to do that.

“The coppers I know are all good people, but we need to look at how someone like Wayne Couzens was able to get into The Met in the first place. And then we had Boris Johnson’s comments saying women should just hail a bus down if they’re worried about being attacked.

“But what if a woman is leaving a pub late at night and there are no buses? Or what if a bloke just bungles a woman into a car, what would she do then?

“When I was assaulted I was able to get away and run, but often when you’re attacked you go into shock, some people just freeze and can’t move.

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“The problem is there’s still unhelpful attitudes towards women around generally, a few years ago I got to be a director at a pharmacy company which was very equality focused.

“The opportunities for women there were great, but when you tried to go for similar jobs in other companies you’d get responses like: you’re of childbearing age, won’t you be going off to have a baby soon?"

Sexism has to become ‘completely unacceptable’

Coun Johnson said education, particularly in families from an early age, had to be part of efforts to tackle violence against women and misogyny.

She added that as a parent she had to balance wanting her daughter to be safe on a night out with wanting her to enjoy herself.

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She said: “As a woman you get told to be careful out there early on, my mum always used to tell me to keep my keys in my hands when I was walking home alone late at night.

“Solving it starts with education, we have to tackle misogynistic thinking and strive for a society where everyone feels they can contribute in the best way they can. Of course men are also assaulted and attacked, but we know it mainly tends to be women.

“It’s difficult because we’d expect the majority of families to bring up their boys to have respect for women and girls. But in some families issues are already there, we know about the problems with domestic violence for instance.

“And then there’s the question of how we make the streets safe for women locally, particularly after the recent rapes in Hull and the Libby Squire case. As a mum I’d want my daughter to be able to go out and enjoy herself, but I’d always sit and wait outside Pozition and Circus Circus for her.

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“And I enjoyed going out to nightclubs as well when I was younger, you want to enjoy yourself and you want that for your kids too. Schemes like Ask For Angela help with that. There ought to be more posters up in ladies’ toilets in pubs to promote it.

“I think one good thing is that women have tons more confidence to speak up about these things now. Ultimately mistreating women and misogyny has to be perceived as completely unacceptable in a similar way to how attitudes have shifted on something like climate change.

“You’d hope things have come on since it happened to me, but all this is still going on.”