West Berkshire Council Weeknotes #73
For this edition, we want to talk about our support for White Ribbon Day and what we are doing to speak out against violence and intimidation in our community more broadly. Violence and harassment of any kind has no place in our society but unfortunately around 150 people, men and women, are murdered by their domestic partner every year while many more suffer domestic abuse. Not only this, but one in five children are said to have experienced online bullying and over 80% of young women say they have experienced sexual harassment in public.
As these statistics demonstrate, it is clear that the issue of violence, harassment and intimidation can take many forms and affect anyone, so we must all come together to tackle it. We are, as we do each year, supporting White Ribbon Day on Thursday 25th of November, which is a global campaign to raise awareness of and ultimately end violence against women. Its pledge is 'to never commit, excuse or remain silent about male violence against women'. Already this week we have both videoed our message of support and committed to stand against any form of violence towards women and have asked men in particular to make a difference with the #AllMenCan leading message.
The tragic murder of Sarah Everard, which saw a young woman brutally killed by a serving Police Officer when walking home from a friend's house, was alarming for all of us. It was worrying to women as it highlighted the danger that can be present at any time in their own community. It also started a national debate about public trust in our police as the perpetrator simulated arrest before sexually assaulting and murdering Sarah. In the wake of this, we decided to appoint Councillor Claire Rowles as our Safer Streets Champion. As part of her role Claire will work with Thames Valley Police to speak to local people about their experiences of harassment on West Berkshire's streets and lobby for changes to be made in law to protect individuals from this behaviour.
As a local authority, we see the value of public service and making a meaningful difference in the community. The reality is, however, that many people who would like to serve are put off from doing so for fear of being harassed while performing the role. A tragic and extreme example of violence against those engaged in public life was the recent murder of Sir David Amess MP, during a constituency surgery where he was meeting those he served. This followed the senseless murder in 2016 of Jo Cox, who had also been about to hold her constituency surgery.
It is widely acknowledged that women in politics are more likely than men to face a form of intimidation or aggression and that they are more at risk of violence and harassment. At local level, one of the district's elected MPs is a woman, Lynne serves as Leader of the Council and Councillors Jo Stewart and Hilary Cole sit on our Executive. These women show the difference that can be made when the demography of elected members matches the community and it is important that they can serve in a safe environment in which debate in civilised and respectful.
Violence and intimidation against anyone engaged in public service clearly has a detrimental impact on democratic processes. The impact of intimidation on those who may enter politics has been a concern for some time, and is therefore something that has been under review by the Local Government Association (LGA). Social media, although it has numerous benefits, is all too often a tool used to anonymously to intimidate or harass people anonymously. We acknowledge that here in West Berkshire there have been issues with this, which may prevent some people from standing for election, and as a Council have worked hard to remove the barriers within our control to enable them to come forward.
We can and will take action against any individual who engages in any form of harassment or intimidation of our councillors or of our officers. This includes the option of taking formal legal action. If appropriate, such matters will also be referred to the police, and those who have experienced it will be supported through the process.
Of course, it isn't just women who can face violence in the home, or in the community. Anyone can suffer from intimidation, harassment or physical violence so it is important to be respectful of each other, not to make assumptions about another's experiences and to speak up when you see something that isn't right. We would therefore urge you, too, to read about White Ribbon Day and to show your support so that we can end violence against women and within our community together:
We wish you a happy and healthy fortnight ahead.