Wera Hobhouse MP: “Women will not be silenced. We have had enough.”

The appalling murder of Sarah Everard and the inappropriate Police action in response to the vigil last Saturday night came too late for the Conference motions deadline, so the Federal Conference Committee used its power under the standing orders to allow our Westminster Women and Equalities spokesperson, Wera Hobhouse, to make a statement on the events and the issues they raised. Here it is in full:

The killing of Sarah Everard horrified a whole nation.
That sickening feeling when we heard she was missing.
The wait. The search. As we all tried to hold on to hope, even as we feared the worst.
And then it came.
The heart-breaking news
This is every woman’s nightmare, every parent’s nightmare, every sibling’s nightmare, every friend’s nightmare. It could have been us – no, this is us. It is our fear, it is our reality.
I think Sarah’s death hit us all so hard because we know it could really have been any woman.
Sarah, a thirty-three-year-old marketing executive who grew up in York, studied in Durham, and then moved to London.
Who lived in Brixton Hill and had just started a new job.
A young woman who her family described as “bright and beautiful”, “kind and thoughtful”, “caring and dependable”.
Who “always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour.”

Our thoughts have been with Sarah’s family ever since we heard Sarah was missing.
And our hearts go out to them still.
We grieve with them.
And we are angry.

Because – while the killing of a woman by a stranger is particularly awful and relatively rare – violence against women and girls is not.
On average, a woman is killed by a man in the UK every three days.
Every three days.
Most of them killed by their partner or their ex.
Their lives viciously snatched away. The lives of their family and friends destroyed.
Why does it keep happening?
Because beneath these evil killings lies a culture of normalising sexual harassment, abuse and violence.
This culture doesn’t only target women, men are victims too. But 99% of the perpetrators are men.

This is what we need to talk about. Let’s start changing our language. Not ‘violence against women’ as if there were no active perpetrators. Let’s call it violence by men.
More than six hundred thousand women are sexually assaulted each year,
And only one in six report it to the police.
More than fifty-thousand women reported being raped last year,
Only fourteen-hundred rapists were convicted. Why?
Because our culture, our language and our criminal justice system still works around the assumption that rape was to some extent the woman’s own fault. She asked for it, she provoked it. She consented.
99% of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. They are all too often missing from the discussion.
Rape continues to be normalised by the absence of talking about the perpetrators.
Many women experience harassment and discrimination in the workplace on a daily basis.
Many women receive appalling abuse online – threats and intimidation, for daring to have an opinion.
Too many women never feel safe on our streets.
Everything has to change.
Women are speaking up. More men should do the same.

We Liberal Democrats led the campaign to ban upskirting, and to make revenge porn a criminal offence.
Liberal Democrats are leading the charge now to make misogyny a hate crime.
Crimes motivated by hatred against women must be treated as seriously as those motivated by racism or religious hatred.
It’s why we are pressing the Government to finally pass the Domestic Abuse Bill it promised four years ago…
It’s why we have passed amendments to make sure it protects all women, regardless of race, nationality or immigration status.
And it is why we are demanding that the UK ratifies the Istanbul Convention and upholds internationally-agreed standards for preventing violence against women and supporting survivors.
Liberal Democrats will continue to call for better sex and relationship education in schools and better training and more resources for police, prosecutors and judges.

Crimes against women must be dealt with properly and survivors must be listened to and supported.
Let’s talk about the perpetrators not only the victims.
Criminals must not go unpunished, victims must get justice.
No woman should be the victim of sexual crimes, abuse and harassment.
No woman should live in fear of them either.
No girl should grow up learning that harassment is part of life.
No young woman should have to avoid walking down streets, or through the local park.
No parent should have to sit home worrying.
No victim should be made to feel that is was her own fault.
Everything has to change.

The women who came to Clapham Common for a peaceful vigil last Saturday evening gathered there to say they had enough
Like all of us, they were angry.
Angry at the killing of one young woman.
And the deaths of so many other women, at the hands of men.
Angry that male violence hasn’t been tackled with anything close to the urgency it demands.
That women are too often the victims, men are almost always the perpetrators.
Their anger was our anger. Their message is our message.
So when we saw what happened to those women, we were all – rightly – outraged.
Police officers, forcing women to the ground.
Arresting them, for exercising their fundamental human rights.
The right to peaceful assembly. To free expression.
The right to protest.

We all understand the need for restrictions on gatherings during this pandemic.
Liberal Democrats have supported the public health laws throughout the past year to contain the spread of Covid.
We have rejected the notion, pushed by some on the Tory right, that there is a choice between public health and civil liberties.
We know that we must do all we can to protect both – and that the best way to restore everyone’s freedoms is to get Covid under control.
But what the police did on Clapham Common last weekend wasn’t necessary to protect public health.
The Met should have been working with the organisers ahead of the vigil, to make sure it could go ahead: safe and Covid-secure.
That is exactly what Reclaim These Streets had been asking them to do.
The Met’s refusal to facilitate a peaceful, Covid-safe vigil – and to force the organisers to call it off – was wrong.
Their heavy-handed tactics against the women who did attend the vigil was wrong.
The scenes from last Saturday reminded us all that, even during a pandemic, we must be vigilant in defence of the rights and freedoms we hold dear.
Not rejecting all restrictions, like the Tory extremists.
But not handing the Government a blank cheque either.

As proud liberals, we must hold the Government to account, carefully balancing the need for public health measures and the need to protect civil liberties.
And now, instead of trying to correct it, the Conservatives are doubling down:
Trying to pass new laws to hand the police even more powers, that would persist even after the need for Covid restrictions is over.
That is wrong.
Liberal Democrats voted against the Protest Crackdown Bill on Tuesday, and we will continue to resist the Conservatives’ attempts to weaken the right to protest.
They tried to silence the women of Clapham Common last Saturday night.

Women will not be silenced now. We had enough. We want to end sexual violence, abuse and harassment and a whole culture that allows all of it to persist and too much of it to go unpunished.
We will keep saying it, we will not be ignored:
Everything will have to change.

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3 Comments

  • Not to take anything away from the sincerity of the speech as a whole, but the misrepresentation of the following figures over the past week (largely by a Labour Party led by someone who clearly knows better) needs to be highlighted:

    “More than fifty-thousand women reported being raped last year, Only fourteen-hundred rapists were convicted. Why?”

    The CPS charged 65% of rape complaints referred to them last year. The conviction rate in court was 68%. Both of those figures are actually pretty high in comparison to many other offences.

    Though not mentioned in this speech, the raw number of prosecutions has declined in the last two years. It’s something many have found concerning. The reason for this however is largely because of delays in the system – it’s not a case of the Police/CPS deciding not to charge more often, it’s a case of them not yet making any decision at all.

    The difference between the number of complaints made and the number of prosecutions is more complex than made out. For a start, of the 55,000 complaints of rape made last year, more than 21,000 were withdrawn by the complainant – the majority before any charging decision was made. The police can rarely prosecute without the key witness. You also have cases where the suspect either cannot be identified or has died – the police can’t charge anyone there either. Some of these complaints are historic.

    In many cases, it is a case of one person’s word against another. Sometimes that isn’t enough to meet the charging threshold (there may be equally credible accounts given from both sides and no other evidence; something in the complainant’s account may be so undermining to the allegation (not necessarily because it isn’t true) as to make a conviction very unlikely; or the complainant may be confused about what exactly happened even after investigation and therefore wouldn’t be a particularly useful witness). The unfortunate reality is that rape can simply be difficult to prove.

    It’s also difficult to disprove. We also have to remember that false allegations do happen (the number of prosecutions of false allegations is not a useful measure – not even Liam Allen’s case was classed as one) and wrongful convictions do happen – and that malicious allegations are not the only type of ‘false’ ones.

    (1)

  • The focus should be on addressing why so many complainants choose not to proceed with the criminal process, as well as the impact of massive cuts across the whole justice system (that our party enabled in coalition) on both victims and defendants.

    Neither Labour or the Tories seem to have any interest in fixing the problems in our justice system beyond posturing over ‘tougher’ sentencing. There’s a gap there for the Liberal Democrats to fill if we’re interested.

    (2)

  • Peter Martin 21st Mar '21 - 7:44am

    ” Criminals must not go unpunished, victims must get justice.”

    The legal system has always wrestled with the problem of how to balance punishment with justice knowing that it isn’t perfect.

    Traditionally we used to err on the side of caution. We used to observe Blackstone’s principle which can be stated as:

    “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackstone%27s_ratio

    Except we have moved well away from that. If a person is acquitted of a serious crime this is no longer the end of the matter. A not guilty verdict is simply an invitation to the police and CPS to have another look in the evidence bag to see what else they can find or manufacture and have have ‘better luck next time’.

    There is a recent move to prevent full disclosure of mobile phone texts and email records between a complainant in a sexual assault case which might be useful to the defence.

    So are we moving towards saying that “it is better that ten innocents suffer than one guilty person walks free?”

    I’d say we already have.

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