by Dr Jennifer Rainbow, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University
I am angry and tired of being angry. I am scared and tired of being scared. I am grieving for another lost woman, and tired of grieving for lost women. In the wake of the Sarah Everard case, women around the country have been expressing their collective grief, anger, pain and fear. She was just walking home. She followed all the ‘rules’ (it wasn’t late, she was appropriately dressed, etc. etc.).
And the response to this collective outpouring of pain, fear and anger (putting aside the policing of the vigil for Sarah Everard)? The Government has announced a series of policy measures intended to ‘reassure’ women and girls, including increasing the ‘Safer Streets fund’ for street lighting and CCTV amongst other things; nationwide roll out of pilots of ‘Project Vigilant’ (plain clothed police keeping watch in bars and clubs); and increasing sentencing and creating new offences. Now please don’t get me wrong – all of these are definitely potentially positive steps in and of themselves. But all of them are also problematic.
Street Lights. Yes, we know that evidence tells us more street lighting improves feelings of safety and can have an impact on reducing crime rates (Chalfin, Hansen, Lerner and Parker, 2021), but in reality research on ‘crime rates’ rarely factors in the underreporting or delayed reporting of violence experienced by women (if women even recognise fear inducing behaviour as ‘violence’). Arguably, misogyny has become so pervasive that more street lighting often just means that either we can see what is lurking and take evasive action, or it shifts the threat further into the shadows. Rarely does it eliminate the risk. There ARE ways that street lighting can be combined with other architectural and environmental changes to reduce risk and fear, but just popping a few more bulbs up won’t cut it. Vast amounts of violence against women and girls are committed in broad daylight (e.g. bullying, online violence, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, etc.), where another street light has no impact whatsoever.
CCTV. Academic evidence tells us that CCTV can have an impact on reducing fear of crime…for men (Cho and Park, 2017). An increase in the surveillance can be used as evidence to prosecute an individual who perpetrates a crime. Again, this assumes that CCTV acts as a deterrent when it is known about (and given the pervasive nature of misogyny and physical, sexual, spoken, online, financial, emotional violence experienced by women with existing CCTV in place, this is questionable), and also that it will make a difference behind closed doors. Evidence also shows that CCTV is less cost effective than street lighting when not actively targeted at crime ‘hotspots’ (Lawson, Rogerson and Barnacle, 2018).
Plain Clothed Police in the Night Time Economy. Women don’t need a ‘knight in shining armour’, we need to be safe in and of ourselves. Increased Sentencing. The sentence for murder is life anyway. New Offences. There was nothing ‘new’ about the offence of kidnap and murder.
Sarah Everard was walking in a well lit area. Sarah Everard was last seen on CCTV. A police officer not in uniform at the time has been charged with Sarah Everard’s kidnapping and murder. None of these proposed interventions stopped her being kidnapped and murdered.
And again, this is limiting the locations that a woman is ‘meant’ to be in. A fantastic article by Daphne Spain in 1993 highlights the impact of spatial differentiation on gender stratification and power imbalances – saying where women ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be is a way of controlling access to resources, knowledge and power. Being attacked in a location which is poorly lit, when on your own, with no CCTV DOES NOT equate to any form of culpability. To put it bluntly, I should be able to walk down the street absolutely naked in the middle of the night without fear of being victimised. I can’t (and won’t). And what’s worse is that, if I did and was attacked it would somehow be framed as my fault. Although the fact that I am a white, middle class, woman would at least mean I get some public attention on my case – 21 year old Blessing Olusegun went missing and was found dead in September 2020, and 25 year old Bennylyn Burke and her 2 year old daughter went missing in February 2021 and their bodies were found the following month. Crenshaw’s 1989 work on intersectionality and the compounding effects of different forms of marginalisation is sickeningly visible here – unlike those women in the press.
What’s worse, is that, to many of us, it feels like our voices are not being heard and what we say doesn’t matter. Given the outspoken political, popular and protest responses to the proposed ‘European Football Super League’, the issue of violence against women and our general fear feels like it has been long forgotten and was a ‘flash in the pan’. I watched the protests at the Manchester United football stadium and was impressed at the level of peace and dignity given to this group of men by the police – where was that at the Sarah Everard vigil? Young white men with bottles and flares in comparison to a group of women devastated at yet another loss of one of our own. There is arguably something more insidious here than the policing of covid restrictions.
We need policy that engages with the systemic violence and victim blaming experienced by women. The fact that we have better evidence to catch offenders, sentence offenders, and criminalise offenders does not prevent these offences from happening in the majority of instances. Nowhere are we seeing any direct and real engagement with the elephant in the room of policy to reduce women’s victimisation: engaging with, and educating, men. And yes, we know it’s not all men. But it is all women.
Chalfin, A., Hansen, B., Lerner, J., & Parker, L. (2021). Reducing crime through environmental design: Evidence from a randomized experiment of street lighting in New York City. Journal of Quantitative Criminology, 1-31.
Cho, J. T., & Park, J. (2017). Exploring the effects of CCTV upon fear of crime: A multi-level approach in Seoul. International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 49, 35-45.
Crenshaw, K. (1989) Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics’ University of Chicago Legal Forum, Vol. 1989(1) Article 8, 139-167
Lawson, T., Rogerson, R., & Barnacle, M. (2018). A comparison between the cost effectiveness of CCTV and improved street lighting as a means of crime reduction. Computers, Environment and Urban Systems, 68, 17-25.
Spain, D. (1993). Gendered spaces and women’s status. Sociological theory, 137-151.