Putting women’s safety on the agenda
By Elaine Hindal , Chief Executive of Drinkaware
Today I’ve been privileged to attend the Home Office Summit on Women’s Safety on the Streets and in the Night Time Economy and heard a number of excellent presentations on many aspects of women’s safety including protection, in the first instance, but also appropriate support for victims and the urgent need to challenge a pervasive culture of misogyny that gives rise to violence against women.
The government recently published The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions1 outlining its mission to understand why rape victims are being let down, and to right this wrong.
The document reports “We will also be publishing a new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy later this year. It will be informed by the Government’s first ever public survey of people’s experiences of these despicable crimes, which received a total of 180,000 responses. The VAWG Strategy will be followed by a dedicated and complementary Domestic Abuse Strategy.”
Reporting and conviction rates fail to give adequate consideration of the victims of assault, and the impact it has on their lives, or the importance of breaking attitudes and patterns of behaviour that lead to offending, so development of this new strategy is to be welcomed.
At Drinkaware we know that what starts as a good night out can be ruined by unwanted and intimidating advances from people who are drunk. The excessive use of alcohol as an excuse for grabbing and groping women on a night out, guided Drinkaware’s successful 2018 campaign ‘If you wouldn’t do it sober, you shouldn’t do it drunk’.
At that time, research2 showed that just over a third of women (35%) and 9% of men had reported receiving unwanted sexual contact on a night out. This ranged from name-calling, grabbing and groping to serious sexual assaults. Far too often, women feel they have little option but to accept this kind of intimidating behaviour as part of a ‘night out’ but there are limits. Sexual harassment is a criminal offence and being drunk is never an excuse.
Perpetrators of harassment may want everyone to believe that their behaviour is ‘flirting’, ‘banter’ or ‘a laugh’. However, the difference between flirting and harassment is consent and their victims certainly aren’t laughing. Consent is when a person agrees to something by choice and has both the freedom and mental capacity to make that choice. Flirting involves consenting to someone else’s attention, but consent can be taken away at any time and cannot be assumed simply because someone has been given consent in the past.
It was disquieting to hear today that the prevalence of sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls appears to have increased – not fallen – since the Drinkaware campaign, and that as harassment evolves through the use of Bluetooth and AirDrop technology, it becomes even more personal, distressing and invasive. Yet the principle of our campaign remains the same today - if you wouldn’t do it when you’re sober, you shouldn’t do it when you’re drunk – and it is vital that everyone, men and women, support a zero tolerance approach to the safety of women and girls in public spaces, even more so now as social distancing measures begin to ease.
More recently, Drinkaware was able to contribute to the Women’s Health Inquiry Call for Evidence. Our response drew on insight and evidence of attitudes to alcohol and of drinking behaviours, to highlight how to best protect women’s health from alcohol harm in different forms.
One particular aspect in our response was the rise in intimate partner violence, with the COVID-19 pandemic exposing this often hidden alcohol-related harm. The substantial rise of calls to intimate partner violence helplines was widely reported at the beginning of the pandemic as abusers and their partners had to self-isolate together at home.345 Although alcohol is not always a factor in domestic and intimate partner violence, it is highly correlated67 and women are more likely to have physical intimate partner violence committed against them by a partner who has been drinking than vice versa.8
As part of the wider discussion on prevention, reporting, prosecution and support there is also, therefore, a need for further research into the impact of alcohol on women’s safety and Drinkaware welcomes an opportunity to continue its own contribution to that conversation.
If you, or someone you know, has been affected by sexual harassment or any sort of sexual harm, help and support is available. Victim Support is an independent charity for victims and witnesses of crime. They offer free, confidential help to anyone who’s been affected by sexual harassment. Call 08 08 16 89 111 or go to www.victimsupport.org.uk.
6 Eckhardt, C.I., Parrott, D.J. and Sprunger, J.G. (2015). Mechanisms of alcohol-facilitated intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 21(8), 939-957.
7 McKinney, C.M., Caetano, R., Rodriguez, L.A. and Okoro, N., (2010). Does alcohol involvement increase the severity of intimate partner violence? Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 34(4), 655-658.