The case of Sarah Everard, who was murdered on her way home, has sparked a huge discussion surrounding the safety of women. CBJMagazine investigates how female students in Nottingham feel about living in the first UK city where misogyny is a hate crime.
“Text me when you get home” is a message that most women have sent. It’s part of the routine, something that we type on autopilot – no one sleeps until the last person in the taxi has stepped through their front door.
But over recent weeks, it’s taken on a new meaning. It’s become a symbol of women’s hypervigilance for their own safety.
Following the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, women across the country have united in sharing stories of their experiences feeling unsafe on the streets.
“You talk to your mates or colleagues and hear that they regularly suffer verbal and physical abuse. If you go to the pub or clubs, it’s wrong that you get touched up and rubbed against. It’s not acceptable,” says Paddy Tipping, Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner. “I think the death of Sarah Everard will be a seminal moment.”
Emily Garton, 20, a second-year English student at the University of Nottingham says that being harassed in public is part of the female experience.
“In first year, it happened a lot on nights out where I’d be groped or followed but now it happens when I’m walking to campus and I get shouted or whistled at,” she says. “I prepare myself for it every time I leave the house.”
She’s not alone. Whether it’s being groped at a bar, followed home from the shops or catcalled on the way to work, this culture of aggression against women is commonplace.
According to a report by UN Women, 97% of 18-24-year-old women in the UK have been sexually harassed.
For women, this experience is something that affects their day-to-day life. Every move is a calculation.
“We’re forced to analyse absolutely everything,” says Nottingham Trent University news journalism student Faith Pring, 22. “I always carry my keys in my pocket so I can easily grab them, I have heavy books with me as a deterrent and I take different routes home depending on the time of day.”
Isobel Barnes, 19, a second-year psychology with criminology student at Nottingham Trent University, agrees. “I was taught by my parents to pay the extra £5 for a taxi, not to walk alone at night and to never put my drink down,” she says.
In response to the increasing discussion surrounding violence against women and girls, police forces in England and Wales must now report incidents of violence against women that are motivated by hostility because of their sex or gender.
But for Nottinghamshire Police, misogyny has been a hate crime since 2016. This means that reports must be recorded as being a hate crime or incident.
As Carrie McNabb from Nottingham-based domestic abuse charity Equation highlights, classifying misogyny as a hate crime does not criminalise any actions that are currently in the boundaries of the law.
But what it does do is demonstrate how this behaviour is not acceptable.
“You can’t fight something unless you can see it and name it,” she says. “By codifying it within our laws, misogyny as a hate crime becomes much easier to identify and oppose.”
“It definitely makes me feel a lot safer,” says an anonymous Nottingham Trent University student. “If something happened to me, I’d report it because if it makes you feel uncomfortable or hurt something needs to be done about it.”
But the pilot has not gone without criticism.
During an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, Susannah Fish, said that she would think carefully about reporting a crime against herself out of worry about how she’d be judged.
“I also know in terms of conviction rates and the challenges of going through the criminal justice system, as a woman, it’s thankless,” she said on the show. “Trying to then explain yourself and justify yourself, just feels to me to be incredibly difficult.”
With rape convictions falling to a record low, it’s clear that victims who are coming forward aren’t necessarily getting the justice that they deserve.
This is something that Isobel echoes.
“I reported a man taking pictures of me but was told it was not a crime,” she says. “I felt like I was a burden and being silly – I wouldn’t report an incident again as I don’t believe anything will happen.”
Faith is also wary and, despite knowing that misogyny is a hate crime, is unsure about whether she’d actually report it. “I know someone who was stalked, and she didn’t report it,” she says. “I don’t know the reason for that, but I imagine it would be the same as mine – if you don’t have enough details about what happened, how much could really be done about it?”
But Tipping says that low prosecution rates should not dampen women’s trust in the effectiveness of making misogyny a hate crime.
“It is true that the number of people who’ve been arrested and taken to court is very low. But it’s about changing attitudes and cultures,” he says. “The fact that women in Nottingham think that we’re on their side and that this isn’t acceptable behaviour is a really important step forward. It’s not going to change overnight, but we’ve got to work at it.”
With this in mind, it’s evident that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to ensuring that sexual harassment and violence against women and girls is something that is no longer normalised.
Emily, for instance, is a higher education ambassador for the organisation Our Streets Now and is campaigning to raise awareness of the prevalence of public sexual harassment in higher education, as well as in Nottingham more generally.
“We need both cultural and legislative change,” she says. “There must be effective legal protection against all forms of violence against women and girls and we must work to educate society.”
As Carrie says, for change to occur, women’s voices and concerns must be heard and, more importantly, believed.
“When we hear women’s concerns about reporting abuse and hate crimes, it’s important to listen,” she says. “Harassment and abuse is not a fact of life and it’s not something to be tolerated.”