Sarah Boyack: Women living their lives in fear is unacceptable

Women should be able to go out at night with no fear
Women should be able to go out at night with no fear
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IT’S a shocking statistic that one third of women are afraid to walk alone at night and one in ten households have cited drugs or vandalism in their area is an issue. Those are the statistics for Scotland as a whole and they are as relevant to Edinburgh as the rest of the country.

While campaigning for safety measures to be installed in the Telfer subway, I’ve been struck by how many women, particularly older women, have told me they avoid going out at night for fear of being attacked.

Edinburgh City Council’s violence reduction programme aspires to create a safer environment where violence is deemed unacceptable. For most women, the fear of crime is much greater than the likelihood of experiencing it. That’s why we need to listen to women’s 
concerns and act on them.

Public safety measures used to be seen as “soft” issues, but when women don’t feel confident on public transport or walking the streets then it means we need to act.

Railway stations now have help points so that people on platforms can call for assistance. Buses now routinely have CCTV cameras inside to protect passengers and drivers.

There is much that can be done to tackle both crime hotspots and the fear of crime. Police and residents have knowledge and expertise about areas that are unsafe. We need to use that knowledge to target problems with a mix of visible policing and physical measures such as CCTV.

In my former life as a town planner, I was involved in Secured by Design Initiatives: integrating crime-prevention measures into the planning of developments – avoiding the use of subways as pedestrian crossings, installing effective vandal-proof lighting and fences and awareness of the need to avoid creating blindspots and obstructions like plants or buildings that people could hide behind.

It’s crucial that once an area has been identified as unsafe there is a concerted effort to make it safer. I believe this is the case at the Telfer subway, where there has been a number of recorded robberies and assaults. Measures such as CCTV can act as a deterrent, provide reassurance to people, and assist police when crime has taken place.

In the 21st century, it cannot be acceptable that women feel they cannot walk through some areas at night because they don’t feel safe. Over the years, places like the Meadows have seen community safety initiatives and campaigns from students in particular to ensure that people walking home late at night are safe. The Reclaim the Night movement affirms women’s rights to use public spaces without fear and raises awareness of the threat or reality of rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment that women have to negotiate.

A visible police presence can help provide assurance, but resources are not unlimited and need to be prioritised. Local community knowledge is key. One of the most shocking findings from the 2011 Scottish Households survey was that in Scotland’s poorest areas, a third of all adults do not feel safe in our streets at night. We need to take those fears seriously and ask which areas people are concerned about and what action can be taken to make those areas feel safer.

Creating safer communities benefits everybody. A safer environment will build confidence for older people and ensure they are not trapped at home. It will also protect young men, who are particularly vulnerable to night-time violence.

The most moving response I’ve had from my campaign for CCTV in the Telfer subway was from the mother of a young man who had been assaulted and had his iPhone stolen. He suffered facial fractures and required two operations. On this occasion, the police caught suspects and they will face court. Reducing the incidence of crime while making people feel safer has to be our goal.

• Sarah Boyack is a Labour list MSP for Lothian.

HARSH STATISTICS

Almost a third of women in Scotland do not feel safe walking their streets alone after dark, according to a government survey released last week.

Despite crime being at a 30-year low, more than one in ten Scots still complains that rowdy behaviour, drug dealing and vandalism are a problem.

The 2011 Scottish Household Survey revealed that 29 per cent of women do not feel safe in the streets of their neighbourhoods at night.

In the country’s poorest areas, 32 per cent of all adults have this fear.

Noisy neighbours and loud parties are a problem, according to just over one in ten (10.4 per cent) Scots, while 11.7 per cent complain about drug misuse and drug dealing.

More than three-quarters of adults said they feel very or fairly safe when walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark, with males (90 per cent) more likely to feel safe than females (67 per cent).