I feel very lucky that throughout my career to date I have worked in roles that I have found enjoyable and fulfilling. Having started my career in the private sector, I switched direction after 11 years and started a career in policing as a civilian staff member. I worked in a number of roles including Offender Management and Protecting Vulnerable People before joining the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2019, where I have been involved in pieces of work that have often centred around services for victims and witnesses, and understanding how we can work together to make things better.
At the start of the summer, I was asked to undertake a piece of work aimed at getting a better understanding of what organisations were doing in South Yorkshire to address Violence Against Women and Girls. In the past, I have worked with a number of service providers who have been actively involved in supporting women and girls for many years, so I thought I knew quite a lot already about the work taking place. I learned very quickly that any prior knowledge I had was only scratching the surface in understanding the spectrum that is Violence Against Women and Girls.
If we think about crimes such as domestic abuse, sexual violence, stalking and harassment, child sexual exploitation, and honour-based abuse, the common thread is they are predominantly committed by men against women and girls. That is not to say that there are not male victims of such crimes; there are, and they must be treated with the same care, empathy, and respect we would expect for all victims of crime, but there is no hiding from the fact that women account for the largest proportion of victims.
Over the course of four months, I engaged with almost 40 organisations across every district of South Yorkshire. They spoke to me about the work they are doing to address Violence Against Women and Girls, and were open in sharing where they feel the gaps and challenges are. As you can imagine, after speaking to all those organisations, thinking about what is needed so that women can feel safe and be safe can seem overwhelming. I found myself on more than one occasion wishing I had a magic wand that would create more capacity in some areas, including to support children impacted by domestic abuse, and provide more counselling for women and girls who have experienced trauma.
There is no easy solution to eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls. We have to continue with the work already taking place, keep innovating, and work together more. I saw first hand the power there is in coming together to find solutions, or to replicate what is already working. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when something is working well, and like the organisations that came together for this work, we should be proud to share what we do so that it can have a wider reach.
Most of the people I spoke to and worked with during the scoping work (though not all) were women – without question, every single one of them was passionate, caring, and dedicated to addressing Violence Against Women and Girls. They made me feel proud to be a woman and grateful that whilst we still have more to do in South Yorkshire, there is some incredible work taking place. As the mother of two teenage daughters, this gives me a great deal of assurance and optimism for the future. I know I am not alone in feeling such a sense of pride and togetherness as a woman. I have heard other women working in this area say they too feel proud, and so they should.
But what we need now is to get the men on board. Without this we will not see the degree of societal shift that is needed in addressing Violence Against Women and Girls. We shouldn’t underestimate the difference that can be made through positive male role models: in families, at work, in schools and education, and socially. We need them to be able to recognise unacceptable behaviour and call it out without being afraid to do so due to the fear of being ostracised in some way. As the eldest of three girls, I grew up with a Dad who instilled in us all a fundamental principle that we are equals in every way and can make a difference. He is not a lone voice, but we do need to think carefully about how we start a South Yorkshire (and bigger) choir that rings out way beyond Christmas.