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BRISTOL: Violence against women epidemic

BRISTOL: Violence against women epidemic

Bristol Women\'s Commission chairwoman Penny Gane at Bristol City Council full council meeting on Tuesday, November 9 (Image: Bristol City Council/YouTube

Bristol is in the grip of an “epidemic” of male violence against women and girls, warn female rights campaigners.

And council leaders have pledged to restore the city’s place among organisations recognised across the country for making a commitment to end the abhorrent and cowardly attacks.

Bristol City Council’s “White Ribbon” status lapsed in 2015, two years after it became part of the accreditation scheme run by a charity of the same name, which works to engage men and boys to end violence against women.

Meanwhile, more than 20 Bristol schools and colleges were named earlier this year among thousands of anonymous reports of sexual assault and harassment posted by victims on a website called Everyone’s Invited, which aims to expose “rape culture” in the UK.

Bristol Women’s Commission chairwoman Penny Gane, presenting the organisation’s annual report to full council, said: “In terms of women’s rights, equality and safety, we find ourselves in the middle of a perfect storm.

“In a single year in Avon & Somerset there were five domestic homicides and six suicides in the context of domestic abuse.

“In 2019 in Bristol more than 11,000 incidents of domestic violence were recorded where women were the victims, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”

She said the real figure was five times greater and that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic and disabled sufferers of abuse were less likely to report it.

“Economic inequality facilitates violence. Poor households have three-and-a-half times higher rates of domestic violence and abuse,” Ms Gane said.

“Women leaving abuse suffer greater poverty. Schoolgirls are at increased risk of sexual harassment and rape.

“There is an epidemic of violence against women and girls at the hands of men and boys.

“This needs to be at the top of everyone’s agenda, every council department, all our partners and stakeholders, our businesses and our communities.

“The council’s White Ribbon status should not have been allowed to lapse.”

City council Labour cabinet member for women Cllr Helen Holland told the meeting on Tuesday, November 9, that the women’s commission, comprising representatives from sectors including education, health, unions, business, police, transport and support groups, was the longest running Bristol mayoral commission and it was easy to presume all the issues about domestic violence and street safety had been heard before and resolved.

“But the time is absolutely right to redouble our efforts,” she said.

“And I agree it’s shocking the council didn’t regain its White Ribbon status and that is something I am definitely going to do something about.”

She said Avon & Somerset’s new female chief constable Sarah Crew agreed this was a “watershed moment” and that things must change because recent shocking events such as the murder of Sarah Everard had highlighted “in many ways we have gone backwards”.

Green Cllr Ani Stafford-Townsend said: “Quite rightly the conversation must centre female voices and be led by female voices, all female voices.

“But the change we need for women, girls and those perceived female isn’t just our battle. It is the battle of all of us sat here.”

Conservative Cllr Lesley Alexander said: “Covid has contributed some disproportionate harmful outcomes for women, particularly around domestic violence and greater exposure to health risks because of their representation in social care and the NHS.

“The elimination of harassment and violence against women and girls must remain key priorities in this city.”

Lib Dem Cllr Sarah Classick said conviction rates for rape and sexual assault were “appalling”.

“Essentially in this country those crimes are decriminalised, based on how many actually reach a successful conviction and the fact domestic violence rates continue to rise,” she said.

“These are some of the reasons why it’s so important we have a women’s commission in Bristol that fights for the rights of all women across Bristol.”

White Ribbon Day takes place on November 25 involving thousands of people raising awareness to prevent violence against women and girls.

Words: Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporter


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