Let’s talk about women’s safety, says mourners at the heart of the British police turmoil

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Cressida Dick, City Police Commissioner, walks on Downing Street in London after meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson

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From Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Grief and anger over the murder of Londoner Sarah Everard should flow into efforts to end violence by men against women rather than political clashes over police tactics at a vigil, said one of the women in charge arrested at the event on Monday.

Everard, 33, was kidnapped while walking home in south London on March 3. A police officer was charged with her kidnapping and murder, sparking a national debate on how British society deals with male violence against women.

However, the political focus shifted to the London Metropolitan Police after officials attempting to disperse a vigil for Everard who violated the COVID-19 lockdown rules scraped with mourners and handcuffed women away on Saturday.

Patsy Stevenson, who was pinned to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by male officers in dramatic images that became a lightning rod for anger against police, said Monday she was dismayed by the turn of events.

“I went viral by accident. I didn’t want this to happen. It happened like a whirlwind,” she said on Sky News.

“I’ve been tossed in public and the only way not to do this for free is not to do it politically, not against the police. It’s all about women’s safety and we have to talk about it,” she said said.

An estimated 85,000 women are raped and more than 400,000 sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales, with only a tiny fraction of the incidents leading to criminal convictions.

The latest figures showed that the police conviction rate per rape allegation was 2.6%, a record low.

On Monday, the media focus was on whether the head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, should step down because of the ugly scenes on Saturday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Monday he had full confidence in the London police chief.

“The fundamental problem that we, as a country, as a society, as a government, must address is that women must feel that when they make serious complaints about violence, assault, they are properly heard and properly addressed.” he said.

“A male problem”

Since Everard’s disappearance, many women have used social media to share their own experiences of harassment and assault on the streets of the UK and to call for change.

One of the factors that made the case a rally for women was the fact that police ordered women near where Everard went missing to stay home for their own safety. This enraged many women who said the responsibility should be with men to change their behavior, not women to give up their freedoms.

White Ribbon UK, a charity that aims to end violence against women and girls by working with men and boys, called on them to take a stand following Everard’s murder.

“It must not fall on women to change their way of life because of fear and the risk of violence. This is a male problem and men have to be the ones in charge,” said Peter Lassey, Chairman of White Band UK .

A protest is due to take place later on Monday in Parliament Square under the banner of “End Violence Against Women”.

But a friend of Everard’s, Helena Edwards, said the case was “kidnapped” by people with an agenda.

“Sarah was a victim of one of the most horrific crimes imaginable. She was very unlucky – that’s all that goes with it,” Edwards wrote on a blog, adding that she would hold him accountable if that happened Suspects would be found guilty.

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