Here in Devon and Cornwall we are fortunate enough to have some of the lowest crime rates in the country. Nonetheless the shocking death of Lorraine Cox in Exeter is a reminder that sadly nowhere is completely safe.
Reducing violence and its effect on people and society is a topic that has concerned the Chief Constable and I for some time now. It is why we have set up the first Devon and Cornwall Serious Violence Prevention Programme which yesterday brought together police, charities, statisticians and behavioural experts from around the South West. The board will seek to better understand the causes of violence and then put in place measures to make Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly even safer for all residents and visitors.
We must also strive to make the criminal justice system more manageable for victims who have suffered from these crimes and their families with better support through funding for independent sexual violence advisors and victim support services, improved witness care and support services and by speeding up the criminal justice process. There are too many cases that take too long to progress through investigation to charge and trial and the impact that such delays have on the individuals are not something that they should have to suffer.
I am pleased to see that in the aftermath of the tragic Everard case the Home Office has reopened the call for evidence relating to its strategy to combat violence against women and girls. I would encourage anyone who wants to help shape the future government approach to take part in that survey which is open until March 26.
I welcome this open approach although we should not lose sight of the fact that men and boys are in fact almost twice as likely to be victims of violent crime than women, and this problem also needs greater consideration, levels of understanding and resource.
Many in the criminal justice system believe that violent crime is fostered by the turning of a blind eye to the early warning signs. Whether it be school bullying or sexual harassment in the workplace, we have all witnessed harmful behaviour, yet how often do we challenge it and the response of our peers to it?
Two years ago I met a young woman from Exeter, Rebecca Broad, who contacted me to discuss sexual harassment after a number of episodes when men had tried to intimidate her with threats and wolf whistles as she went about her daily business.
One had even gone so far as to threaten to sexually assault her as he drove past. I suggested that if she ever felt her safety was at immediate risk she should call police using the emergency number. Sexual harassment is a crime and such unacceptable behaviour, I would argue, is something no one should have to put up with. It is also behaviour that should set alarm bells ringing in the mind of any police officer.
Our meeting was filmed by the BBC and reported fairly and accurately by a number of outlets. The Sun, however, chose to run with the headline ‘CATCALL THE COPS Police chief tells victims of wolf-whistles and catcalls to dial 999 in bid to end harassment’. Radio station LBC also ran, for a time, the incorrect assertion that I had urged anyone wolf whistled at to call 999.
This misrepresentation portrayed me as out of touch and Rebecca as over-sensitive, while creating an angle on the story that was more interesting than the facts would allow.
I stand by my advice to Rebecca, and all victims of on-street harassment, and think most reasonable people would want police to take action if there was a threat of sexual assault made against their wife or daughter.
Perhaps most worrying was the way that story was handled by newsdesks. Their reporting of this sensitive and important matter in a flippant way reinforced an overt message to their readers was that anyone making a fuss about sexual harassment was a bit silly and should toughen up.
The charity Plan International estimated in 2018 that in the UK 66% of women aged 14 to 21 had experienced unwanted sexual attention or harassment in a public place. In my opinion this type of abuse is the thin end of a wedge and society ignores it at its peril.
There is now a growing understanding that such harassment is a form of men exerting or trying to exert power over women. Studies have shown harassment makes its victims feel more vulnerable to physical violence and less confident about being out in public. I stand in solidarity with those who say that we have to stand up to all violence.
If you have been a victim of crime and want practical and emotional help and support you can contact the Devon and Cornwall Victim Care Unit on 01392 475900 or Victim Support on 0808 1689111.