'If you were punched in the face in the street you wouldn’t hesitate to report it to the police so why is sexual assault any different?' - Lancashire women share experiences of assault and harassment

Lancashire women have shared their experiences of street harassment and sexual assault in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death.

Monday, 15th March 2021, 8:45 am

Sarah Everard, 33, went missing after walking home from a friends house at night which has prompted women to come forward to share their fears of walking alone, being harassed and being assaulted.

Women are six times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men in England and Wales and are 15 times more likely to be raped than men.

Lancashire crime figures show that 970 women were sexually assaulted between 2019 and 2020 and 833 women were raped during the same period.

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Fleetwood and Lancaster MP Cat Smith shared her own experiences of street harassment.

This is compared to 175 men being sexually assaulted and 59 being raped during this time.

Women in Lancashire are over five times more likely to be sexually assaulted than men and 14 times more likely to be raped.

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“If you were punched in the face in the street you wouldn’t hesitate to report it to the police so why is sexual assault any different,” said Cat Smith, MP for Lancaster and Fleetwood.

Members of Lytham St Anne's Road Runners. Women runners often feel unsafe to go out after dark or change their routes to pass through more crowded places.

The MP took to Twitter to share her experience of being followed by a stranger in 2013.

“I was followed home from work in 2013,” she said, “It was by a stroke of luck I saw a police car and flagged down an officer who helped me.

“When questioned, the stalker brazenly said yes he was following me and he got away with it.”

Ms Smith says her story is ‘not particularly remarkable’ due to the myriad number of women sharing their experiences.

“Unwanted touching on the street just happens, it’s such an everyday thing for women,” she said.

Not only do women feel at risk when walking home, they say they are also prevented from doing activities that men can usually do without fear.

Chairwoman of Lytham St Annes Roadrunners, Maria Tierney, said she does not feel safe running in certain places when there is less daylight.

““As a woman if I’m out running I do feel conscious about safety and I do think about it,” she said.

“I’ll go to areas where there are lots of people about, areas that are well-lit.

“During the day I would run through the woods but during the night I would never do that.”

The running coach will change her route to make sure there are other people around.

“It’s just something you do as a woman, you are aware of other people around you especially when it is dark at night,” she said.

“I think it has always been like this since I was a teenager and people used to tell me to put my keys between my fingers and walk in the middle of the road and not to walk on the inside of the pavement.

“It has become ingrained into us and we have become so used to it whereas a man wouldn’t even think about behaving like that.”

Maria has a 21-year-old daughter at university who said she is happy to walk through Manchester alone but says she is always conscious of what is going on around her.

“One runner says she was training alone along a canal in Lancashire when two men pulled up on a moped and slapped her across the bottom,” Maria said.

“As a runner, I would say run with somebody else and join a running club.”

During lockdown gyms have been closed and sports clubs have not been able to organise group activities.

Maria says she looks forward to training in small groups again as lockdown eases.

MP Cat Smith said: “Over the years I have had some really challenging issues with women who have been raped and the case hasn’t made it to court.

“I absolutely understand why some women don’t come forward due to self-blame and guilt or embarrassment.

“We need to start talking about consent and again I don’t think we just need to be talking to girls about this.

“If we don’t educate our boys we will never solve the problem.”

The MP said she was glad to see a national conversation about harassment and violence experienced by women.

A Lancashire Police spokesperson said that they will always support victims of assault who come forward.

“We take investigations into rape and sexual assault very seriously,” the spokesperson said.

“We have specially trained officers who will explain the process all the way through and help you to make a statement about what has happened.

“There will also be people there who can help you with any medical concerns you might have.

“Sometimes people are afraid to speak to us for a wide range of reasons.

“No matter who you are, how long ago the assault happened or what took place, our prime concern is to give you the support you need.

“We'll listen, understand and guide you through the investigation process at a pace you're comfortable with, whilst respecting your wishes.

“If you feel unable to report it to us straight away, tell someone you trust. You can speak to your GP or if you are at college or university, welfare staff and the Student Union will be able to offer help and advice.

Victims can self-refer to the Preston Royal Hospital SAFE Centre for counselling, support and help with forensic examinations. The centre can be contacted at: 01772 523 344.

Lancashire Victim Services can provide emotional support, information and practical help regardless of whether the crime has been reported to the police. Services are free and confidential and can be accessed by calling 0300 323 0085.