Jess Phillips: I just want women to be safe

Jess Phillips
·5-min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned

From Harper's BAZAAR

In celebration of International Women's Day, we asked a diverse range of inspiring high-profile figures, from actresses and poets to activists and politicians, to tell us what one thing they'd like to change for women the world over. Although feminist issues have never taken more precedence, this series proves that there is still work to be done.

Jess Phillips is the Labour MP for Birmingham, Yardly. Straight-talking and direct, she has long used her power and voice to improve the lives of women across the UK, whether it's about motherhood or domestic abuse. In fact, before she entered politics, she spent years working for charity Women's Aid. As the current shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, she wants to see an end towards violence towards women and justice served to survivors.

In 2021, I would like women to be safer. Many have described the disappearance of Sarah Everard as a rarity; it is not. Since Sarah first went missing last week, six women and a little girl have been have been reported as being killed at the hands of men. Sadly, their cases have not received the same level of airtime. Killed women are embarrassingly common in this country. Although we know how many women whose lives were taken by men in the past year (118), no one bothers to count the statistics for what happens to us on the streets - all the times we have been followed, catcalled, groped, intimidated and frightened.

We all talk about violence against women and girls more. During the pandemic, I have been bowled over by the genuine nationwide concern for victims of domestic abuse. For many, the face of fear for women is - not only the man who might follow them on their way home - but also the man they live with, the man they work for, the man who can control them with his status in their social circle. For the first time everyone in our country got a glimpse of what it would be like to trapped in your home; to be scared. People all over the country struggling with lockdown reflected how being safe in your home was a privilege not everyone can claim. It is heartening to see.

Over the decades I have worked with vulnerable women, I have watched attitudes change for the better and the political weight of domestic abuse grow, thanks to brilliant vocal difficult bloody women. We can pat ourselves on the back that attitudes have shifted. I am afraid the situation for victims has not. In fact, every year the figures tell a grim story about how few women receive justice for their brutal rapes or the terrorism they faced at home in the UK.

I am sick of listening to people trying to look tough on crime while crimes against women worsen and the justice system shudders and falters in the face of it.

Fewer than one in 70 recorded rape allegations resulted in a charge last year. According to Home Office figures, only 1.4% of rapes recorded by police in England and Wales resulted in a charge or a summons in the year to March, a record low. The number of domestic abuse-related prosecutions in England and Wales fell 22%, from 78,624 in the year ending March 2019 to 61,169 in the year ending March 2020.

Year on year more violent men are getting away with harming women. We all sing the mantra begging women to come forward, we run campaigns to reach out a hand to vulnerable victims and what is happening when they do come forward? The system fails them.

As we join together as women across the world the week of International Women’s Day, it would be very easy for us in the UK to look overseas and lecture on failed records to fight violence against women and girls. The Sarah Everard tragedy aside, I am not sure that the 69 out of 70 victims who came forward last year to say that they were raped only to be told that there was nothing our justice system could do would think we were in a position to be righteous.

In 2021, I will join with others to do everything I can to make sure that our justice system sits up and recognises that it is failing women. I cannot sit in another meeting where we talk about how we need to improve training or how agencies need to work together, I have been in these meetings for over a decade.

My hope for 2021 is that the stories of men who kill their wives and only face three years in prison and the rape cases that never lead anywhere will be a thing of the past. Yesterday, I read out, as is done every year, a list of the women whose lives were taken by men in this country over the past 12 months. Let's pray every day and work every day to make sure nobody's name ends up on this list again. In 2021, let’s pledge to make our justice system work for the women in our country.

My only hope this year and every year is that women matter enough for justice to be done, at the moment the figures tell you that they simply don’t. Let’s change it.

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