Edinburgh date rape victim calls for greater protection of women

A date rape survivor has said more needs to be done to protect women in Edinburgh.

Friday, 1st October 2021, 9:16 am

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The call came after Met Police Officer Wayne Couzens was ordered to die in prison for the “grotesque” killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March this year.

Sarah was snatched by Couzens, 48, as she walked home through London from a friends house before being raped, strangled and her burned body dumped in a pond.

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Danger on our streets: Detectives are still hunting for a sex attack who targeted solo women weeks apart in Edinburgh in 2015.

The murder sparked nationwide outrage and prompted fresh calls for more to be done to end the epidemic of male violence against women.

The Evening News talked to one woman from Edinburgh who didn’t report her attacker to police at the time because she believed it wouldn’t be taken seriously.

The 28-year-old support worker said: “The tragedy of Sarah’s murder is that the circumstances leave women feeling very powerless. It makes me feel very angry that the onus is on women to protect ourselves.

"I didn’t report being sexually assaulted because I felt I wouldn’t be believed. This was based on my experience in supporting a friend who did report an assault to the police.

Councillor Hal Osler has made repeated calls for increased protection for women.

“Officers told us how horrible it would be if it made it to trial. It was all so traumatic. Much more needs to be done by police to help women feel safer and when they come forward to report violence.

"When I go out now I think, should I get a taxi home. It’s always in the back of my head. It’s a horrible position to be in because it has become like a reflex to cross the road away from a guy looking at me, or put my keys between my fingers. That gives me a feeling I have some kind of control over my safety but the reality is, I don’t have that much power.”

Volunteer project ‘Strut Safe’ – started by Edinburgh students f- ound that 77 per cent of respondents to their questionnaire have felt unsafe in the Edinburgh area and had avoided making a journey on foot to stay safe.

Danger on our streets: Detectives are still hunting for a sex attack who targeted solo women weeks apart in Edinburgh in 2015.

But redesign plans for the New Town have sparked fears that a car-free zone will be more dangerous for women, while at least one sex attacker is still being hunted after striking twice in the city just weeks apart in 2015.

The City Mobility Plan acknowledges that women fear being assaulted or harassed on the public transport network and are more likely to choose to travel by car or taxi because it is safer.

Politicians and women's groups have called for the revamp of the heart of the Capital to take safety of women into account.

It comes as the city has seen a drop in night time taxis available in recent weeks, after many drivers quit the trade following the severe impact of the pandemic.

Councillor Hal Osler said women’s safety needs to be considered as part of all development plans and design of public spaces.

The Lib Dems member for Inverleith submitted a motion to the council calling gor the safety of women to be improved, particularly in parks and open spaces.

Ms Osler said: "The perception of crime in Edinburgh and the fear it brings is high. We must not blame victims and we do that as a society. I feel we can also do all we can to consider safety, too. I am a mum of two daughters and have always taught them to be safety conscious. But we are not tackling some of the very practical issues that have been problem in the capital for decades.

"Its important that the city is designed in a way that helps women to feel safe and promotes safety. While it’s good that we are encouraging people to walk more particularly in the city centre we need to think about the design of public spaces around the changes.

"Fundamental things making paths and pavements better lit, cutting back overgrown areas, especially if paths are obscured. These problems have existed for decades and the council is not tackling them. It’s about improving access, mobility not just sticking in some bollards in and we’re done.

"Let’s be realistic, we can encourage people to walk everywhere but people still need access to decent public transport too. Women trying to get home after a night out or workers who get a lift home or nearby public transport still need to feel they have safe public transport too.”

Alys Mumford, of feminist policy and advocacy organisation Engender said: “At the heart of this is a need for women's equality and end to epidemic of men’s violence against women. We can’t ignore the fact that police have work to do to make women trust them but policing is not the only way to make women safer.

"What we can do is to think about how to mainstream equality in public spaces. We would encourage the council to have conversations with women to ask what would make them safer. We are seeing normalisation of walking and cycling in the city but if safety of women and vulnerable groups hasn’t been thought of from the start in the changes, its harder to retro fit it them later on.”

She added: "Worry about safety has a huge impact on how women engage with the city because we have to constantly work to navigate our own space. I’ve experienced harassment and not reported it, because it’s so normal. Police in Edinburgh need to think long and hard about how they can prove to women they will protect them. There’s a huge amount of work needing done to make the force in the capital fit for purpose and make the streets safer. The threat of violence exists and the perceived threat is awful, feeling scared just to walk home is not something we should have to live with every day.”

Edinburgh City Council and Police Scotland were contacted for comment.

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