'Women don’t just need to be heard, we need to be listened to after the death of Sarah Everard' says Milton Keynes public safety chief

The female councillor responsible for people's safety in Milton Keynes has spoken out about the sickening Sarah Everard case

Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 11:07 am
Updated Tuesday, 16th March 2021, 3:35 pm

Cllr Lauren Townsend is Labour's Cabinet member for Community Safety has revealed how she was "aggressively groped" at a nightclub when she was 19, and how her younger sister was the victim of a flasher on an MK estate.

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Meanwhile the Citizen is asking women to tell us if there are any places where they feel particularly unsafe walking in MK. It could be a particular stretch of redway, and underpass or an unlit stretch of road and pavement. We will pass these details on to Cllr Townsend and the Safer MK group.

Women must not live in fear

Cllr Townsend said: "Sarah Everard disappeared whilst walking home at around 9pm on the 3rd March in Clapham. One week later her body was found in Kent woodland. Since then, women across the UK have been sharing, en masse, their own stories of harassment, intimidation, discrimination and assault. As women, we’ve come together to collectively mourn the loss of a woman we’ve never met, because although it isn’t all men, it is all women; and whilst many men will go through life without ever harming or harassing a woman, every single woman has her own story to tell about a time she’s felt threatened or scared because of the behaviour or actions of men."

She added: "When I was 19 I was aggressively groped on the dancefloor of Lloyds in the theatre district, and many of my friends have had similar experiences, either on nights out or during their time away at university. When my little sister was 17 she was flashed walking to a friends house in Bancroft. She called the police and reported it immediately. The description she gave matched the descriptions given by several other women and the perpetrator was caught, but it was another three to four years going back and forth, to and from court to testify, before the case was actually heard and the man responsible - who had flashed several other young girls and robbed an older woman at knifepoint by a cash machine – was charged.

"In Parliament last Friday, Jess Phillips MP read out the names of the 118 women killed by men over the last 12 months, as she does every year around International Women’s Day. Statistics show that one in three women are likely to experience domestic abuse or violence in their lifetime, and a recent survey - conducted by global organisation UN Women – revealed that 97 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 in the UK have faced sexual harassment."

Cllr Townsend added: "In Milton Keynes, we are passionate about ending violence against women and girls; supporting survivors of domestic abuse and violence; taking allegations of intimidation, coercion, harassment, stalking and assault against women seriously; fighting against sexual exploitation; and campaigning to make misogyny – prejudice against women – a hate crime.

Labour's Cllr Lauren Townsend

"Our multi-agency Community Safety Partnership, SaferMK, is dedicated to reducing both crime and the fear of crime, and proactive conversations with our partners around the ways in which we can promote ideas that empower women, enable men to support them, and educate everyone on the collective role we have to play to make our communities nicer, kinder and safer places to live, work and visit, have already begun.

"It's not fair that women live in perpetual fear; that we hold our keys between our fingers or keep our hands on the emergency call button of our mobile phones in our pockets, ready to press five times should we be approached. It’s not fair that as women we do a little jog to our cars at night, terrified of the echo in multi-story car parks, checking our back seats are empty and locking the doors as soon as we’re in. It’s not fair that as women we can feel equally as terrified walking home, as we can using off-peak public transport, or taking a cab.

"Putting a candle in our windows to mourn the loss of Sarah, and to show solidarity with any passing women who are suffering in silence or dealing with resurfaced past trauma as a result of recent events, is a gesture that makes us feel a part of something bigger, less isolated and alone with our thoughts – but what we really need now is action.

"Women don’t just need to be heard, we need to be listened to – and in MK we are committed to doing just that."

Protests over women's safety and rights following the Sarah Everard murder