Undercover officers patrolling bars does not tackle root cause of violence against women, campaigners say

Plans to introduce plain clothes officers in bars and nightclubs are “well-meaning” but don’t address the root cause of violence against women, campaigners say.

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 4:45 pm

Downing Street announced on Tuesday, March 16, that it was taking a series of “immediate steps” to improve security for women, following the ongoing political debate over violence against women after the death of Sarah Everard.

Among the plans is the roll-out of a programme where uniformed officers patrol clubs and bars to actively identify predatory and suspicious offenders.

However, campaigners against sexual violence that although the plans are well-intentioned, they do not tackle the cultural and systemic issues at hand.

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Leeds city centre pictured in 2020.

Katie Russell, the national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales and co-founder of Support After Rape & Sexual Violence Leeds (SARSVL), said: “I certainly wouldn't say we were against the measures.

“The measures are well-meaning, and they certainly have the potential to be positive, but our overwhelming feeling is that these kinds of measures really aren't the point.

“They might be treating certain symptoms, but they're certainly not getting to the root cause of the disease, which is that violence against women and girls is rife.

“A woman is killed every three days in the UK, and recent stats from the UN showed that 97 per cent of women in the UK had experienced sexual harassment in the UK.

"It's a cultural and systemic issue.

“We believe sexism and sexual harassment exists very much on a continuum and that kind of violence ultimately ends in extreme acts like rape and murder of women.

“We want to get to a point where that kind of violence isn't normalised and isn't tolerated.”

She added: “The plans sort of tinker at the edge of safeguarding women, but what we really need a criminal justice system that works and more resourcing for the specialist organisations like Rape Crisis.

“Currently, the overwhelming majority of people, mainly women and girls, who are raped, sexually assaulted or sexually abused, receive no criminal justice and the vast majority of rapists walk free.

“We'd like to see resources and efforts focused on securing justice.

"We also need more funding for specialist organisations that not only provide specialist support, and advocacy services to enable victims and survivors to cope and recover after the traumatic experiences of sexual violence and abuse, but also do the vital community-based awareness raising and education work, including with agencies like the police.

“These are the kinds of things that will give us a chance of making long term lasting, meaningful change.”

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Councillor Al Garthwaite, who has been vocal on women’s rights and safety in Leeds, believes that the scheme could have a positive impact in the city after seeing the success of pilots in other parts of the country.

Coun Gaithwaite, who represents the Headingley and Hyde Park ward, said: “There was a trial of this kind of scheme in Newcastle and I have heard from police officers and representatives from Safer Leeds that it was very successful in identifying potential predators.

“It focused on, what is almost always men, who are likely to be there for a specific purpose such as putting date rape drugs into people's drinks.

“The idea is not entrapment of innocent people who are just out for that night out, which is 99.9 per cent of those who are there, it is to nip anything in the bud should something arise because, after all, with 97 per cent of young women aged, 18 to 24, have reported experiencing sexual harassment.

She added: "If someone has got nothing to worry about, then why should they be concerned about who else is standing next to them at the bar, having a drink?

"If there is nobody there then the officers can have their drinks and just mingle with everyone and everyone can get along with their evening enjoyment and fun.

“Women should not be putting up with sexual harassment.

"It gets in the way of them living a free and independent life.

“Something must be done and as long as police are behaving in a proper way, I would say anything that discourages predators from coming into bars with only one thing in mind like sexual violence, or rape should be encouraged.”

Other preventative measures to keep women safe have been put in place in the city and student areas of Headingley and Hyde Park by Leeds City Council.

These include training barmen and door staff on how to recognise potential predators and how to deal appropriately with incidents, as well as the Ask Angela scheme, which encourages people to ask for Angela if they feel they are in trouble which will let staff know that they need help.

Other steps to protect women’s safety unveiled by Downing Street include a doubling of the Safer Streets fund – which provides neighbourhood measures such as better lighting and CCTV – to £45 million.

It also said ministers were committed to working with police forces and with police and crime commissioners to ensure the measures were more focused on preventing sexual violence.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The horrific case of Sarah Everard has unleashed a wave of feeling about women not feeling safe at night. We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe.

“Ultimately, we must drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to better protect and defend them.”