Supporting women’s safety - in response to the death of Sarah Everard
In a special ‘keeping in touch’ blog, our Chair Professor Sue Proctor and our Chief Executive Dr Sara Munro, speak out after the shocking death of Sarah Everard and in light of the vigils, protests and impassioned national debate that has followed.
“She was only walking home.”
We wanted to write this special blog following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard which has caused widespread shock and distress, and has sparked an outpouring of emotions and protest.
As the Chair and Chief Executive of the Trust we are incredibly mindful of the importance of supporting our workforce and our service users affected by Sarah’s death. For many of us, it has brought to mind personal experiences and concerns for our own safety and those closest to us.
We’ve had exchanges with many friends, colleagues and family members over the last week which have been hard to hear as people share all too similar experiences and levels of anxiety they frequently face when out alone. Those of us with children will feel that overwhelming desire to protect them but we also have to educate them to be become adults that have respect towards fellow human beings regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
As well as the protests in London, we’ve also seen local protests. Hundreds of people lay on the ground in Leeds’ Millennium Square yesterday evening to remember women whose lives have been lost to violence. Such protests reflect the strength of emotion which is compounded by the scale of the issue and the lack of meaningful change.
Sadly this is nothing new. As a survey published this week by UN Women UK stated 97% of women have been subjected to sexual harassment. In response to a recent You Gov survey, seven out of ten women report having experienced sexual harassment in a public place; nine out of ten younger women reported similar experiences. These statistics are shocking but they can also detach us from the reality of each of these individual experiences.
For every number, this is a woman or girl who has been flashed at, cat-called, verbally abused, harassed, groped, kerb-crawled, followed, assaulted or yelled at – just for being present in a public place. A woman who may then have felt fear, anxiety, anger, shame, tearful, guilt, loss of confidence, and be made to feel foolish. Some women don’t ever feel safe enough to disclose what has happened. The victims here are not to blame. We know only too well the mental health impact this has from working in a mental health and learning disabilities trust.
Whole society approach
Clearly this is something we all need to address and not just through law enforcement. We need a whole society approach to this issue. There are also calls for a different narrative to accompany this whole debate. The safety of women in public spaces is not only an issue for women, but also for men. Of course, not all men are a threat. The majority are as appalled by these facts as anyone else. How do we support and enable men to be our allies? The expectation of being able to walk, run and travel safely should be part of our childhood socialisation; for both boys and girls.
You might find this latest blog entitled Tackling violence against women and girls published by Rosanna O’Connor at Public Health England gives some helpful context about tackling the root causes of violence, which includes challenging societal and cultural norms that can lead to violence.
70% of our workforce is female. Across the organisation, staff and service users alike will be engaging in this debate. We want to hear your thoughts. How can we as your employer support and protect the safety of all our staff and service users? Where and how should we have this important conversation?
Keeping staff safe
We have already started looking at security from both an estates and clinical services point of view. Our Estates Team have started a review of our main sites looking at things like lighting, CCTV, alarm systems and lone working practices, with their first review visit at The Mount first in the next few weeks. We will share more information as this progresses and ways in which you can directly contribute to this review.
For those colleagues who are currently working on site or in the community outside of your home, if you feel anxious about travelling home alone, particularly when in the dark or out of hours, we encourage you to talk to your line manager and HR colleagues who can explain what options there are to support you. We understand that these issues can be really challenging to talk about and it’s important to know what support is available to you, so you can have conversations in whatever way works best for you.
We advise anyone who feels in immediate danger to call the emergency services. Where colleagues are concerned about arriving and leaving our sites, we can arrange for security colleagues to conduct patrols and accompany lone workers on and off premises where necessary. People have also been sharing personal safety tips on social media including useful smartphone features such as shortcuts to emergency call access and temporary location-tracking services.
If you feel you need additional support, the Trust’s Employee Assistance Programme ‘Health Assured’ is available. Health Assured is an independent agency that can offer help and support with a range of work, family and personal issues. You can contact their 24-hour confidential counselling service on 0800 030 5182 or you can find full details about Health Assured on our intranet here.
As leaders, we want to pledge to all our staff and service users that we will use the leverage of our positions as Chair and Chief Executive to work with the Board, the Trust and our partners to challenge; to question; to make whatever changes we can to improve the safety of all the women who work or volunteer with us.
We can’t do this by ourselves – we need your help. We are repeating our request from 2020 when we made the call to all to step up and make our organisation a place where discrimination is not tolerated, where we take collective action to tackle abuse.
Working together, we want this organisation to enable all staff and service users to feel valued, appreciated, understood and to be the best version of themselves possible. This starts with feeling safe, or in response to any kind of harassment, to feel confident to report it, to be heard and for it to be addressed. There should be zero tolerance of any form of harassment or assault in this organisation.
Sara & Sue