We need to raise better boys and men to prevent stranger murders of women
The debate must move on from what women and victims could do differently, to how we stop violent men from reoffending time and again.
Sometimes events happen that make society stand up and say “No more”. The tragic death of Sarah Everard has done exactly that. She is one of 31 women to be killed in 2021 – three of whom, tragically, died since her. Their names may be less familiar but every one of them must be remembered.
My own cousin was murdered by a complete stranger when she was 18. Her killer had been harassing girls in her neighborhood, a suburb outside of Paris. Unbeknown to her and my family, he stalked her over a period of time, and when he knew she was alone in the house, he forced himself in and strangled her.
My heart therefore goes out to all those families; the journey they are now on is a long and lonely one. Sympathy and anger can, and will, spill over but the only real thing we can do for them and their dead daughters, sisters and mothers is to ensure they haven’t died in vain. We must match heartfelt words with the far harder task of making changes that will drive this death toll down for good.
My own cousin was murdered by a complete stranger when she was 18
Stranger killings and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. The media will alight on the former; while the latter, quite unacceptably, often gets a shrug as though it’s some kind of inevitability. The reality, though, is that abuse and misogyny in the home flows freely into the street. They are the same crime.
There is no quick fix to the problems but legislation can and should signal a change in the way we act and think as a society.
This is why I took the Stalking Protection Bill through the Lords in 2019 and why I tabled an amendment at committee stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill calling for a perpetrator strategy. The current Bill is a good piece of legislation and an important opportunity to bring about some of the change so clearly needed.
The debate shouldn’t be about men versus women. It should be about moving the conversation on from what women and victims could do differently to keep themselves safe, to how we stop violent men from reoffending time and again.
I often reflect that my cousin might be alive today if the police had taken her killer’s harassment of young girls more seriously, if his behaviour had been called out as grossly unacceptable by his peers, or if he had been put on a perpetrator scheme like the ones we know work.
The criminal justice system clearly has a big role to play. We cannot carry on with a situation where rape has such low prosecution rates. The Prime Minister was quite right when he said women must be reassured that when they report an assault, whether by a stranger, or more likely by someone they know, that they won’t be dismissed.
But this goes far wider and deeper than the criminal justice system. We should be helping society raise better men. If a boy is only seeing abuse and violence at home – and compounding it by accessing violent and abusive pornography online – without the right support and guidance there is a pretty high chance he will carry on that cycle either in his own relationships or more widely in society. Early intervention and recognition are essential.
New funding for perpetrator interventions is very welcome, but eventually more will be needed if we are to ensure a safe, effective response everywhere. And it will need to come alongside a clear strategy. We know fewer than one per cent of offenders receive any kind of intervention.
The task is huge but there will always be victims if we continue to treat perpetrators as an after-thought. Sarah Everard, my cousin and all the other women facing violence right now, deserve better than that.
Baroness Bertin is a Conservative member of the House of Lords.
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