'Women must change their behaviour? It's the police that must change'

Flask Walk in Hampstead

Flask Walk in Hampstead - Credit: André Langlois

Last night one of my friends wrote on our university girls WhatsApp chat that it was no longer enough to just say "text me when you get home".

She said we all need to make a habit of sharing our live locations with each other if we are heading home after a night out.

It got me thinking about how much the Sarah Everard revelations have felt like a nightmare come true for any women walking home in the evening. Just a few months after the murder, we heard about the murder of yet another woman, Sabina Nessa, who was killed on a Friday evening just minutes from her London home. A woman is killed by a man once every three days on average.

The main reason these incidents have hit home so much is because this is our city. These are the same streets we use to get home, and the situations in which these horrific murders have taken place are familiar to all of us. We all walk home after having dinner with a friend often without a second’s thought; we take shortcuts through the park if it means saving five minutes in our busy lives; and, most importantly, we all assume that the police are there to guard us and protect us.

After Sarah Everard’s murderer was revealed to be a police officer, it felt like there was a huge breakdown in trust between the police and the community. Responding to this incident by telling women what to do rather than telling us what the police would do to keep us safe and regain our trust was shameful. Some of the advice that has been issued by the police about confronting officers who challenge us or flagging down a bus was totally unrealistic and frankly insulting.

As someone who was born in London, went to school here and represents the area where I grew up as a British MP, I know I would never have felt able to challenge the police if they tried to arrest me. I would be in a state of absolute fear, wondering if by questioning an officer with wide-ranging powers to arrest I would aggravate the situation or allow a charge of resisting arrest to be brought against me.

The advice that has been issued has not only been shockingly ignorant, but it also makes me feel really despondent that we are once again putting the onus on women to change their behaviour. Why should it fall to women to question whether a police officer is genuine? Why is the emphasis on the advice for women rather than actions that should be taken by the police as a matter of urgency to rid the force of these dangerous, predatory men who threaten us?

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A woman has been murdered by a police officer, but so far it feels like the outcome is somehow that women must change their behaviour, not the police. What we really need is a culture change in the police, and the first step would be to understand just how much women’s trust in the police has been eroded over the years.

I know that if I had been in Sarah Everard’s shoes on that fateful night, I would have got into that police car. That fills me with dread. The truth is that it could have been any one of us in my university girls’ WhatsApp group that night, and until each and every one of us feels safe on the streets of London, we will have failed as a country.

Tulip Siddiq (Lab) is MP for Hampstead and Kilburn.

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq

MP for Hampstead and Kilburn Tulip Siddiq - Credit: Lauren Hurley/PA