More imaginative solutions are needed than women's safety app, says equality charity
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The Stevenage & North Herts Fawcett Society has said that the police and government need consult with women's groups and charities in order to determine how best to address the 'epidemic' of violence against women in the UK.
This comes following the arrest of Met police officer David Carrick - from Stevenage - who has been charged with the rape of a woman he had met on Tinder. This shortly followed the horrific abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens, who was handed a whole-life term.
The death of 28-year-old Sabina Nessa - who was on a short walk to meet friends in London - has also been making headlines nationally, sparking an outcry for more to be done to protect women and girls.
Now, plans for a new phone service - aimed at protecting lone women - have been supported by home secretary Priti Patel, but have been met with further criticism.
A spokeswoman for the Stevenage and North Herts branch of the Fawcett Society said: "I am angry that yet again it is women who have to change their behaviour to stop men attacking them, when it should be men who have to make changes to their lives and attitudes to ensure women are safe.
"I am also not convinced that this will make a difference, apart from making it easier for the police to find our bodies. Sabina Nessa was making a short walk across a park to meet friends, would she have felt the need to be tracked?
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"When Wayne Couzens 'arrested' Sarah Everard would he have not just taken her phone, if this app was around? If women choose not to be tracked when they leave home, and they are attacked, will we see more victim blaming by the police, the judiciary and the press? Will the next initiative to make us safe be an instruction not to leave home alone?
"The government and police have to come up with more imaginative solutions to this problem, that do not entail women having to lose their freedom.
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"They need to address this problem root and branch and they need to consult with women and women's groups on how best to do this. This is not a decision for men to make: it is for women, with men as our allies."
The Fawcett Society is a charity campaigning for gender equality and women's rights, founded by suffragist Millicent Fawcett in 1866.
A Herts police spokeswoman said: "The impact of the tragic Sarah Everard case is significant and while predatory attacks from unknown offenders remains rare in Hertfordshire, we will always consider what more we can do.
"Safeguarding the vulnerable has been the priority of the force for a number of years, with considerable resources and training put in place across a raft of areas.
"We have worked tirelessly with our partners in regard to the night time economy to keep women safe from a prevention perspective and have a clear focus and priority regarding the prosecution of offenders.
"Sarah’s case has motivated the police service, including Hertfordshire, to re-double its efforts and work with partners and the public more widely to drive down instances of violence against women and girls.
"We recently ran a survey to seek feedback from women and girls specifically to understand some of their concerns in more detail. This information is now being assessed and will be actioned to expand on the work we are already doing.
"The force is also involved in a major recruitment drive which will see more officers on patrol and engaging with the public, which is a critical part of our drive to keep people safe."
The new phone service 888 was pitched by BT and has been supported by the home secretary. It would enable users to have their journeys tracked through the app or by calling or texting 888. Should the user not arrive at their destination in the time estimated, the service would alert friends or the police.
According to the Office for National Statistics, between March 2019 and March 2020, 207 women were killed in England, Scotland and Wales. Female victims made up one in four of all killings.
This latest plea to do more to protect women has also resulted in seven police forces in the eastern region announcing a unified vetting procedure - expected to be in place by the end of the financial year. Those forces involved include Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire police.