Preston councillors' daughters suffer street harassment, as the city calls for it to be made a hate crime

Two Preston city councillors have told a town hall debate on street harassment how their own daughters have recently been subjected to it.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 4:22 pm
Updated Friday, 16th April 2021, 5:06 pm

The accounts emerged at a meeting of the authority where members called for misogyny to be treated as a hate crime.

Lib Dem Cadley ward councillor Debbie Shannon, who brought the issue of public sexual harassment before the council, said that it caused “anxiety, distress and intense fear” among those who had experienced it – often leaving them feeling unsafe in their own community.

She said that while she had previously been a victim of the practice herself, the scale of the problem was really brought home to her when her teenage daughter was verbally abused in the street at around the same time as Sarah Everard was murdered on her way home in London last month.

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Preston city councillors Debbie Shannon (left) and Sue Whittam have both had their daughters suffer harassment in the street (images: Google [top], Preston Lib Dems [bottom left] and Preston City Council [bottom right])

“[My daughter] was simply walking to and from the supermarket – ten minutes away from our home. She, like many other girls of her age after such an incident, felt highly uncomfortable, insecure and on edge walking on our streets by herself.

“In the past, the narrative around sexual harassment has been over-simplified, minimised, and normalised – but the impacts can be significant,” said Cllr Shannon.

Tory group leader and Preston Rural North councillor, Sue Whittam, recounted a similarly disturbing story about what she witnessed just this week when out walking with her 20-year-old daughter.

“I was really shocked that vehicle after vehicle down the A6 was tooting their horn – [it was] all men, jeering out of van windows and shouting at my daughter.

“It was very uncomfortable and I asked [if] this happened all the time – and she said, ‘Oh, yes, all the time’.

“Unfortunately, our society sees women and girls as sex objects,” Cllr Whittam added.

The original notice of motion brought by Cllr Shannon called for the authority to support the Our Streets Now campaign, which is demanding that street harassment be made a specific crime.

The proposal was amended by the ruling Labour group to call for “all forms of misogyny” to be “seen and policed as a hate crime”. The authority will now write to the home secretary lobbying for street harassment and misogyny to be categorised as hate crimes in law.

Labour City Centre ward councillor Carol Henshaw said that specific reference to misogyny was crucial, because men are the predominant perpetrators of street harassment. She also stressed the importance of education in changing the culture of society by promoting “respect and self-respect”.

“I remember quite vividly [when I was younger] my sister grabbing my arm and pulling me away from the man who was offering me money – and when I asked what the money was for he [said he] wanted to play with me.

“That look in his eyes still haunts me all these years later,” Cllr Henshaw said.

The city council will now also write to Lancashire County Council to request that education bosses approach schools and academies in the region about “developing a clear policy on tackling street harassment, which is separate to their bullying policy”.

Preston City Council leader Matthew Brown said that men had a responsibility to act as “advocates” for women in the struggle against street harassment. He also said that there should be a “women-led conversation” about the “culture” created by lap dancing clubs and online pornography – and for misogyny amongst politicians to be tackled, too,

“Enough is enough – when you start seeing movements of women protesting in the numbers they have done, it means they’ve had enough of it and they expect us, in privileged positions, elected to represent their interests, to do something about it,” Cllr Brown said.

Meanwhile, Lib Dem Ingol and Cottam ward councillor Mark Jewell asked his colleagues a simple question: “How would you feel if someone made [inappropriate] comments or harassed your wife, your daughter or grandmother?”

The amended motion was unanimously supported.