Women in Leeds call to reclaim the night as new survey shows 97 per cent say being female makes them more at risk of attack from men

The number of women in Leeds who have reported sexual harassment is more than double the national average according to a new survey by a local campaign group.

By Emma Ryan
Tuesday, 23rd November 2021, 4:45 am

Women Friendly Leeds conducted a survey of more than 1,300 women who live and work in Leeds asking them a series of questions about safety as women around the city prepare this coming weekend to 'Reclaim The Night'.

The survey revealed some shocking statistics, and now the group is calling on agencies such as the police, Leeds City Council and the government to look at a raft of recommendations to create solutions and tackle the root causes of sex offences, which range from cat calling to rape.

The results of the survey have recently been published in a 24 page report by the Women Friendly Leeds movement - working with Women’s Lives Leeds and Leeds Women’s and Girls’ Hubs towards a city that is better for women.

Almost two-thirds of women feel unsafe when out and about in Leeds after dark with half ‘always’ or ‘often’ feeling unsafe in the city centre at night. Ninety-seven per cent believe that ‘being a woman’ affects their personal safety in Leeds and 81per cent identify men’s behaviour towards women as a major reason that they feel unsafe according to a new survey.

Of the women questioned in the project, 50 per cent reported having had unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favours compared to 22 per cent of women nationally. In addition, 27 per cent of Leeds respondents had been flashed at (indecent exposure) compared to 14 per cent of women in the national sample.

Of this snapshot of the number of women in Leeds, a shocking 45 per cent had been followed or stalked and 21 per cent had suffered sexual assault or rape.

The report also revealed women's perceptions of safety and the lengths they go to in day to day life to avoid being a target.

It comes as women's safety is put at the forefront of the agenda following the deaths of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, two sisters stabbed to death in a park; Sabina Nessa who was on her way to meet a friend in a bar but never got there and Sarah Everard who was killed by a serving police officer.

Campaigners in Leeds earlier this year when they held a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard who was abducted, raped and murdered by a serving Met police officer.

This led to a focus on police misconduct and yesterday the Yorkshire Evening Post published figures showing the numbers of cases across the West Yorkshire Police force area.

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Ninety-one per cent said they take measures to try to protect themselves from sexual harassment and assault, including strategies which impact on their daily decisions about where they go, how they travel, who they speak to and what they wear.

These include avoiding certain places or being out after dark, walking fast, carrying keys in their hand or pepper spray, making pretend phone calls, dressing differently or crossing the road to avoid men.

Of the 157 women respondents who identified as Black/Black British, Asian/Asian British or mixed heritage, 73 per cent thought that their personal safety was affected by their race or culture, 22 per cent by religion and 22 per cent by being from another country.

Tracey Brabin, West Yorkshire Mayor, said the findings of the Women Friendly Leeds survey were "alarming and shocking".

Commenting on the report, she said: "I have had lots of conversations with people about women and girl’s safety across the whole of West Yorkshire, and the overwhelming response to Women’s Lives Leeds’s Safety Survey shows the alarming and shocking breadth of negative experiences women and girls face in Leeds.

"In order to create meaningful and lasting change for women and girls in our area we need to tackle the issue of public safety head on and adopt a whole societal approach with a collective responsibility.

"I am dedicated to addressing the issue of women and girl’s safety and that all women and girls have the right to both be and feel safe, in their homes, the community, on public transport and in the city centre, regardless of time, location or who they are with.

"Women and girls across the whole of West Yorkshire, deserve to be able to enjoy their cities in safely, so that’s why I endorse this report and its recommendations and fully support Women’s Lives Leeds ambition of becoming the UK’s 1st Women Friendly City."

The report concludes with seven recommendations starting with a Leeds Women and Girls Safety campaign - “Don’t do it, Call it out, and report it”. Other measures include robust reporting mechanisms including the setting up of independent app for users to log places they feel unsafe and to confidentially report incidents as well as female police officers responding to every report of sexual violence; a Safe Night-Time Space with female night wardens and a centre at weekends where women can drop in or be referred to, charge a phone, book a taxi, have some water, report incidents; a whole school approach to challenging violence against women and girls in schools and other education establishments and secondly, Men Supporting Women’s Safety Workshops; safer venues and more places running the Ask for Angela scheme; more measures on public transport including night-time conductors and better lit bus stops as well as a women-only taxi offer to be commissioned by the city through the black and white cabs and funding for emergency pre-paid fares; and that women and girls are included in partnerships and conversations that address women and girl’s safety.

This weekend Reclaim The Night Leeds will march from Woodhouse Moor through the city centre and to the Town Hall on Saturday November 27 in what will be its 44th annual march.

Headingley and Hyde Park ward councillor, Al Garthwaite was one of the founder members of the group and told the Yorkshire Evening Post she still supports the actions of the group.

She said: "I support a march, I was one of the founder members 44 years ago. I think they are very important for women and girls to say 'we are not putting up with this, we demand we can reclaim the night and walk in safety and without fear on the streets."

Coun Garthwaite said she felt the police officers she worked with are doing a good job to increase confidence in them and reports of cat calling, flashing and indecent exposure, sexual assaults and rape were a good thing as it creates a picture of hot spots and areas that need to be dealt with.

She also wants misogyny to be legally recognised as a hate crime and more to be done to look at why men carry out attacks on women.

She added: "Some of these men have a real hatred of women. That is not all men, of course. We have strong male allies. But some men when they were sober would not behave like this but in a group on a Saturday night, several drinks leads to bad behaviour. There are incels, these men seem to think women should be there for their own use.

"It is fuelled a lot by porn and the wider availability of that and they think this is acceptable behaviour ad can behave as they wish. That culture of toxic masculinity has really taken a hold fuelled by pornography. It is about power, not desire. We can do a lot of education from a very early age to say we will not put up with this."

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