Edinburgh councillors bravely relive stalking experiences

Edinburgh councillors have bravely recounted their experiences of stalking and harassment in public spaces, while calling on the council to make the capital’s streets a much safer place for women to travel.

Monday, 30th August 2021, 12:30 pm

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Edinburgh Liberal Democrats councillor Hal Osler has called for officials to investigate how women’s safety can be improved on the streets, public spaces and parks of the capital.

In presenting her motion, councillor Osler also told her colleagues of her experiences of being followed home while commuting to and from work – while Conservative councillor and MSP Susan Webber spoke of her ordeal surviving a stalker.

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Areas like George Street could be safer for women if they were car-free.

She said: “When I lived in London I was followed home four times. I worked in north London, lived in south London, and worked very long hours.

“How do I know I was followed? Because the individuals who did it literally stalked me. To get to my house from the tube station, I had a variety of routes but I had to cross a large stretch of open space – Clapham Common.

“I often took the long, safer option along the road, although it made my days longer, and when it was raining, or I was hungry or tired, it was deeply frustrating.

“There were two other areas where I had a choice of shortcut – again I rarely ever took them.

Councillor Hal Osler was followed home.

“I followed the road the whole way. Why? Because it was well lit and busy.

“I was incredibly fortunate, apart from those four occasions – others I know were not, and those experiences changed their lives forever.

“The issue of perception is a powerful thing, we can make places look and feel safe by design.”

Sue Webber, a councillor and MSP, said being stalked left her 'fearful'.

Councillor Webber added: “Like councillor Osler I too had a period of time where I was very very fearful due to stalking, and if it wasn’t for very prompt action from the police, which did result in a prosecution I’m not sure what would have happened – this is somebody who has a history of previous assault and I was fortunate to have the support of the local police.

“So I really welcome this report coming today as someone who has survived that.”

Labour councillor Mandy Watt said: “As a society, we should do everything we can to deter perpetrators and make it as difficult as possible to make their attacks.

“It’s also been said that domestic violence at home and in private is more prevalent than recorded, than violence and harassment in public – but as a society we need to send a clear message that violence against women is not acceptable anywhere.

“If women are afraid of harassment and attacks in public spaces, then how will we ever end it in private spaces?”

A report will be authored by officers and presented to the transport and environment committee, outlining how safety for women can be improved in Edinburgh’s public spaces.

Speaking after the debate, councillor Osler said: “If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it a 1000 times women telling me I would walk/wheel/cycle more often but I don’t feel safe.

“What does that mean? Edinburgh is a relatively “safe” city isn’t it? So why don’t people feel safe?

“A lot of this is down to how areas are laid out and how they are connected to each other.

“Usually the safest way to go from one area to another is by road, it is well lit and busy. Short cuts are often cut throughs, not necessarily as well maintained, often poorly lit and at different times, the peaceful stillness of daytime can take on a menacing tone at dusk or during inclement weather.”

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