The text of a letter sent to Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne and Chief Constable Jo Shiner by Liberal Democrats in Lewes, Seaford and Newhaven. To lend your voice to ours, sign our petition at https://www.leweslibdems.org.uk/safety_for_women
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Dear Ms Bourne and Ms Shiner,
We write to you to express our concern at the treatment of protesters at the vigil to highlight the murder of Sarah Everard.
As women, you cannot be unaware of the strength of feeling among women and girls across the UK and in Sussex and of their shared stories of sexual attacks, threats, domestic violence and street harassment following the terrible murder of Sarah Everard and charging of a Metropolitan Police officer. A testimony that shows what a common daily experience this is for women and girls of all ages and from all sections of society. A very recent report showed that 94% of women between 16 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment and women of all ages report all types of violence, harassment and assaults against them that happen solely on the basis of their sex.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, Ms Bourne, you have raised the amount paid to support the police by very high rates in the last two years, 7.5% for the year 2021/22 following a 20% rise for the year 2020/21. We would like to see you set out how you will spend some of this increase in police spending on the protection of women and girls across our county.
It is not good enough that police forces, including Sussex, often only fully engage and intervene after an assault or murder has occurred. We have had too many incidents where women have reported violent, threatening and stalking behaviour to the police for it not to be acted on sufficiently seriously. In some terrible cases, inaction by the police has resulted in serious assault and at worst, murder. As political representatives of a party representing a wide section of the constituents of Lewes District, we would like your response to the following points.
i) An explanation of the policing at the Brighton vigil and why it was thought to be necessary to be so heavy handed. We would like assurances that any future protests by women and girls highlighting issues around female safety should be policed in a collaborative way with organisers and with a community-focused approach. We would not expect to see any arrests or cautions at such peaceful protests and vigils.
ii) That part of the increase in police funding, paid for by all residents of our county, should be directed towards improving responses and actions on violence towards women and girls, and this should encompass all aspects from serious sexual or violent assault by strangers, to domestic violence, danger from partners, stalking and street harassment.
iii) That the police must not further entrench ideas about victims holding responsibility for their attack or bringing it on themselves by ‘being in the wrong place’, ‘going out at night by themselves’ or ‘wearing the wrong clothes’. As we are sure you are both aware, to hold down a job or visit or go out with friends, virtually all women and girls will find themselves in the situations above if they are to live normal lives. Women should not be expected to adopt a form of modern purdah in order to protect themselves from violent attacks.
iv) That we would like both of you, as leaders in policing and setting standards for the Sussex Constabulary, to set a standard that tackles institutional sexism and misogynist attitudes within the force. The fact that statues are being offered greater protection in law than women with heavier prison terms than those given out to perpetrators of sexual assault says much about how half the population have their basic human rights infringed.
You will be aware that Cllr Carolyn Lambert has twice raised concerns about the numbers of Sussex Police subject to misconduct hearings including for matters of a sexual nature. The response provided by you as the Police and Crime Commissioner was an attack on Fire and Rescue Services. Perhaps these concerns could now be treated with the respect they deserve and a more constructive approach taken towards these concerns.
In 2016, the UK Parliament voted in favour of the adoption of the Istanbul Convention to the UK statute book. The Convention seeks not just to act after women have experienced violence but to set a standard that sets out that governments have a legal duty to act to discourage violence against women, and protect women from assault, harassment and sexual violence. We would like to see the principles of the convention applied in policing across Sussex so that women are protected from assault and that the police no longer only seek to intervene after serious incidents and harm have occurred.
Cllr Kate Wood, Lewes Town Council
Helena Pickup, vice chair, Lewes Liberal Democrats
Rt Hon Norman Baker
Cllr Carolyn Lambert, East Sussex County Council
Cllr Jamie Bennett, Liberal Democrat candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner
Cllr Sarah Osborne, East Sussex County Council
Cllr Sean Macleod, Lewes District Council
Cllr Rob Banks, Lewes District Council
Cllr Julie Carr, Lewes District Council
Cllr Janet Baah, Lewes Town Council
Cllr Christine Brett, Lewes District Council
Cllr Olivia Honeyman, Seaford Town Council
Cllr Oli Henman, Lewes Town Council
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To help do something about this appalling state of affairs, sign our petition.