April 2021: TEENAGE VOICE
Erin Botten, a former student at North Bristol Post 16 Centre, reflects on the changes needed for women to feel safe in public
Mid-March wasn’t the UK’s finest week. Coinciding with the murder of and vigils for Sarah Everard, the UN reported that 70% of women have been sexually harassed in public. The devastating events of the week struck a chord with many women, with a surge of personal experience being shared across social media. Not long after, #NotAllMen began trending on Twitter. For many, this isn’t the first time the line had been heard, offering up reassurance whilst brushing off the conversation, causing frustration on both sides. But, how valid is #NotAllMen? And what needs to change in order for women to feel safe in public?
Yes, not all men are predators, but based on the messages instilled in women, it’s hard to believe. The disproportionate media coverage on femicide, sexual crimes and victim-blaming has meant women are raised to be actively alert at night and not take ‘risks’, unlike their male counterparts.
“[Men] aren’t trained at a young age to be wary,” explained one woman, despite the equal dangers. According to the BBC, men made up 80% of those murdered (2019-20), whereas for every man raped over 523 women were too. The treatment of victims and the likelihood of justice is the main driving force behind the recent uproar. Women’s claims are often scrutinised in the media, putting the crime down to dress choice or intoxication - this is never the case when men are attacked. NOWTHISHER reported that 45% of women don’t see the point of reporting sexual harassment considering 0.9% of rapes are convicted. Such injustices have enabled men to escape accountability repeatedly whilst the media criticises ‘risk’ taking women. In fact, I found men are more likely to walk home alone whereas women prefer to pay for a taxi. On asking, ‘Do you worry about getting home?’ 82% of men and 5% of women disagreed. Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire summed it up recently, stating “Women learn to instigate risk assessment and management into our lives” - something men aren’t taught to do.
Before researching, the main argument I’d hear from #NotAllMen was that men face vastly more violence than women, however the BBC reports that 1.3% of women and 2% of men are victims of violent crime. The same report showed that men are more likely to be attacked by a stranger, whereas for women it's usually by someone they know, often in their homes - a place many see as refuge.
Former chief crown prosecutor Nazir Afzal explained that men are motivated “by being able to control women” in both violent and sexual crimes. Biologically, women are deemed as weaker, with this ideology further enhanced by media portrayals. But, when it comes to attacking men, it’s primitive. It’s an act of aggression and superior masculinity, demonstrating control. “These toxic behaviours are learned [sic]. There’s this idea that manliness is about aggression, rather than being a part of a community,” said charity chief Christopher Muwanguzi. Most crimes are a product of this toxic masculinity. The few men that are predators are trying to prove their masculinity either to themselves or others by making an example of someone else. Just as the media raises girls to be cautious, it pressures men to prove their worth, mocking ‘femininity’.
“Respect starts at home,” asserted a mother during my survey. Parents do significantly influence their children's attitudes, but this is limited. During adolescence, toxic behaviours are attained from sports, media, porn and peer culture, which teaches men social norms. If misogynistic attitudes are unquestioned, toxic masculinity becomes accepted as the norm, hurting both sexes. Examples of effective changes include role modelling and peer policing against toxic masculinity, not decriminalising sexual harassment, and listening to victims.
In response to the recent uproar, Parliament announced it will be launching Project Vigilant. The initiative will increase police presence (overtly and undercover) in nightlife hotspots to identify predatory behaviour. Additionally the government has doubled Safer Streets’ fund to £45m, increasing street lighting and CCTV, with police patrols being concentrated in high-risk areas. Further plans include providing an £11m fund to the Independent Sexual Violence Advisers who aid victims through the criminal justice process. However, even with the extra policing, it’s unknown whether the police presence will be trusted by women after Clapham’s vigil and BLM.
“At the age of 8, a man exposed himself to me on my way home from school; at the age of 12, I was followed home from school; at the age of 14, I regularly experienced catcalling on the street; in my early 20s I was groped by a driving instructor and by a boyfriend who thought he had ‘rights’. I am an ordinary woman - these were events that I did not comment on at the time. It is only now, in my 40s, that I am realising this should not have been normal.” This was one response I received, showing that the fear women face has never been new or unfounded, and that change needs to start with how we raise men, not women.
Thankfully, society’s acknowledgement of gender-based crimes has shifted, as this lady’s shown. But, as these discussions continue to occur, the most significant ways changes can be made is just by listening. Understand that women aren’t invalidating male attacks when they share frustrations or fears, and that “not all men” provides no relief. Overall, Sarah Everard’s death symbolises that women just want to go out without fear.