'Women are joining out of fear': Increase in Derbyshire's Women's Equality Party members and police offer reassurance to women amid safety concerns
Derbyshire’s Women’s Equality Party has documented a record number of members joining their Facebook page this week ‘out of fear’ – and the county’s police force has responded to women’s safety concerns.
The political party which is open to men and women, has seven ‘core’ objectives to achieve equality in health, representation, pay and opportunity, parenting and caregiving, education, media treatment and end violence against women and girls.
While the county’s WEP branch is currently only operating via a Facebook group before it officially launches later this month, co-leader Kate Burns said they had a record number of women joining the page – from 80 last week to 113 – following the national conversation surrounding how many women feel unsafe.
The 38-year-old from Brimington said: "I would love to say that is because of all the positive and empowering stuff we have done on International Women's Day but it's not, it's since the Derbyshire Times article that was put out last night and I shared the link to the Facebook group.
"Women are joining out of fear, they are not joining out of empowerment or feeling powerful – women are joining because they don't feel powerful, they feel frightened.
"I am pleased women are joining and I think we've got a stronger voice together but the reasons women are joining and the fact that we are united in being scared showed just how far there is to go.”
Derbyshire Police offered reassurance to women in the county after many shared there concerns about safety following the disappearance of Sarah Everard, 33, who was last seen walking home from a friend’s house in South London on March 3.
The force urged women to report crime or any suspicious behaviour which makes them feel unsafe so they can take action.
This evening, supporters of Derbyshire WEP will share their stories of what it is like being a woman at 9pm on Twitter using #EnoughIsEnough to call on local politicians to ‘take responsibility’ for making society safer for women.
Kate, who also works as a skills coordinator Community Chesterfield, explained how she has previously walked with keys in between her hands at night time to make herself feel safe, along with always asking friends to text when they got home after an evening out.
The campaigner who set up the party’s Facebook group around five months ago, is encouraging men to repost stories of women talking about their experiences online and consider joining the national campaign by charity White Ribbon UK – which works with men to end male violence against women.
"It's not every man is it but it is every woman that feels the fear and if you are walking along a street and somebody is walking along behind you, that man knows he isn't going to hurt you but you don't know that”, Kate commented.
"This isn't just on women to change things and it isn't that we are saying, all men are bad.
"But's not enough to not just be not violent towards women yourself, you need to be positively encouraging other men to call other men out.”
On International Women's Day, the force were applauded for having all women in their Chief Constable, Deputy Constable and Assistant Chief Constable roles for the first time in Derbyshire’s policing history.
Chief Constable Rachel Swann said: “We recognise the impact that feeling unsafe can have on people when they are trying to go about their daily business, particularly women.
“We provide a visible presence to help give a feeling of safety, and we work hard to target those who present the highest risk.
"Sometimes the perceptions of crime do not mirror the reality of what is happening in Derbyshire, but the impact of national cases can prompt local feeling and unrest.
“We work closely with our partners to address issues where places have been highlighted as hotspots, utilising prevention techniques, patrol plans and increasing safety measures, such as CCTV and street lighting.”
In the 12 months to March 2020, a total of 623 women aged 16 years old or older were raped in Derbyshire – compared to 30 men – according to the open crime database.
She added: “Rape is an extremely serious crime that has a huge impact on people, and I am pleased to see more people having the confidence to come forward to report what has happened to them.
"Sex attacks by strangers are rare, but where they do happen it can have a significant effect on communities.
"We still have more to do in this area, and we know we need to continue to work with the Criminal Justice system to improve outcome rates to give further confidence to victims and witnesses.
“Everyone has a responsibility for safety, and it should not be about asking women to change what they do or how they behave.
"We all have a responsibility to make any actions that make women feel less safe, no longer permissible.”
The Chief Constable has called for a ‘collective’ response to change behaviours towards women.
"We need to call out others on behaviours that do cause concern for women, which can range from unwanted comments, sending indecent images, to physical attacks", she continued.
“It needs a collective societal response to make a real difference.
"This does mean looking at how we influence views on violent and sexual behaviour at a young age, and what healthy respectful relationships are.
"This requires investment for long-term change for our future generations.
“I would encourage anyone who has concerns about their safety to contact us.
"We have Safer Neighbourhood Teams across Derbyshire, which are dedicated resources for local communities.
"We work closely with local people, and it is important that we are tackling the things that matter to them.
"If people are worried about safety in their community, tell us.
"No one should live in fear and we can take action so they don’t have to.”