Opinion: Strong communities are the key to reducing anti-social behaviour

From littering to binge drinking to sexual harassment, as a society we suffer when individuals show a lack of restraint and self-discipline when interacting with each other and with their local environment.

How many women do you know who have suffered sexual harassment? From wolf whistles in the street to full-on physical harassment, too many of my female friends don’t feel safe to walk down the street at night, and, more often than not, have experienced harassment of some kind in broad daylight. This is hardly the “fair, free & open society” we aspire to live in.

A totally different issue is, too often, the state of the streets when I come home at night: on any given weekend you can be sure to see people stumbling out of clubs blind drunk, urinating in alleyways and dropping half-eaten kebabs in the street.

Clearly, this behaviour shows a lack of self-restraint by individual people, which in turn damages us as a society: whether it is simply because of the state of the high street the next morning, or the much more serious issue when women don’t feel safe to walk home alone.

But, as liberals, we recognize that these issues cannot simply be solved by legislation or policing by the State. Instead, this is where strong communities can be the key to building a safer and more pleasant society for us to live in and share.

We can reclaim our streets, but to do so we must aspire to build closer communities which foster values of self-discipline and respect for each other and for our shared environment. Through these stronger communities we must start an open and supportive discussion around activities like sex and alcohol, so that we equip young people with the confidence and basic facts to make sensible decisions on a night out.

When it comes to sexual harassment, strong communities alone are not enough. We must draw a very clear and public line defining what is unacceptable behaviour towards women: it is not unreasonable to expect most people to show the basic self-restraint and respect. From a community perspective we can attempt to build support networks and make our streets better lit and monitored where necessary, but to tackle the root of the problem it must be about communicating the message that it is never acceptable to harass someone (male or female) no matter how they act, how they’re dressed or how much they’ve had to drink.

It is an ambitious task to eradicate these blights on society and extends beyond politics because we are attempting to address fundamental cultural flaws. But by building strong, open and Liberal communities we can begin to make a start.

* Sean Davey is the Chair of London Liberal Youth

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  • Richard Dean 1st Oct '12 - 3:26pm

    Not every female is displeased by wolf-whistles on a Saturday night, and some of the anti-social behaviour has a positive benefit of reducing tension, allowing people to let of steam and burn energy that might otherwise be put to worse use. The anti-social nature is an important element in some of these activities, and suppressing it in one place will just make it appear in another. For that reason strong communites may make things worse, and local strengths can also lead to bloody rivalries. What’s the solution?

  • Simon Titley 1st Oct '12 - 3:29pm

    This is an interesting opinion piece but something important is missing. Sean Davey offers no analysis of what has corroded society in the first place. When he does that, he will begin to answer his own question.

  • A way to build your strong communities? I think it especially likely that student communities would have a lot to contribute to and gain from time banks as a means of bringing people together through informal volunteering.


  • Richard Dean 1st Oct '12 - 4:43pm

    Where I am, the “community” includes the owners and workers at several pubs and fast food outlets, all of whom profit from the Saturday nighters being complained about. Many of these people, include the bad behavers, live in the area behind the main street where these activities occur, and there are also people in those areas who don’t take part.

    In what sense, then, does “the community” exist and have one voice? Should the views of “strong” parts of the community override the views of the “problem” parts? Or does the word “anti-social” simply get re-defined every time we re-define what a “community” is?

  • I don’t think society is in that bad a shape. I actually suspect the constant fretting, in some quarters, about anti-social behavior is often driven by an illiberal desire to impose a small c conservative and some times politically conservative cultural identity.
    Sure, there is anti-social behavior but I’m not sure that strong communities are the answer. Some strong communities can harbour cultural practices that are seen as anti social by others.

  • Simon Titley 1st Oct '12 - 7:17pm

    @Sean Davey – In your reply to me, you implied that I was seeking a return to the past, putting on rose-tinted spectacles, or even calling for more religious devotion or world war! I said nothing of the sort.

    My point is that any prescription must be based on analysis. The causes of social corrosion are not something we can simply “leave to the experts”. We need a coherent understanding of the causes of social corrosion if we wish to develop better social cohesion. There are already plenty of analyses out there but if you don’t take an intelligent view of them, how can you express an opinion about future policy in this area?

  • I blame the parents. By the time these people are 21 or whatever they have dropped out of anything resembling a “strong liberal society” and you are wearing red glasses if you think they will throw themselves prostrate on the floor because the community has somehow shamed them. If that logic held then ASBOs would have deterred young people from reoffending.

    So, yeah, early years. Probably beyond achievable to stamp out street harrassment through strong communities, especially if the harrassers have driven in.

  • Dude.
    I catch the night bus home a lot too. All I’m saying is that I think reports of Sodom and Gomorrah are exaggerated and that I’m not sure how strong Communities would end the problems when they do occur.
    Of course sexual harassment is wrong. When I was a student I lived in a red light district in Leicester. I lived there for a few years postgraduate too. There were plenty of community projects, plenty of community spirit, and lots of people willing to speak for communities. It did not stop my then girlfriend being harassed, There can be a lot of hypocrisy in strong communities .
    Vomiting in the street is bad too, but I suspect that this kind of thing happens because in ambivalent temperance influenced societies the belief that alcohol causes uncontrolled behavior becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Plus the rights of passage element of getting disgracefully hammered is communal. Personally, I think part of problem is that there’s a gazillion cameras pointing at drunken buffoons but no real attempt to police them.

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