Women's safety: 'We cannot let this moment go to waste'

Julie Etchingham presents a Tonight programme on the shockwave of anger in the wake of Sarah Everard's death. Credit: ITV Tonight

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve worked on stories about the violence men do to women. 

Shameful statistics on rape convictions in the 1990s (they are still shameful). The multiple murders of young women at the hands of a man in Ipswich. The fact two women die per week at the hands of men - often their abusive partners. The introduction of a law against coercive control, where men pitilessly gaslight their wives and girlfriends. The stalking and murder of young hairdresser, Hollie Gazzard. #MeToo. Pestminster.  

And now, of course, seared onto that list: the killing of Sarah Everard, whose name surely we will never forget.

Sarah Everard

With so many women raising their voices in anger again - the shockwave in the wake of her death is the focus of a special Tonight programme a team of us have worked on - which airs tonight. 

In it, brave women speak out. 

The mother of Libby Squire, the Hull student murdered by a stranger in 2019.

Former Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, Sue Fish - twice indecently assaulted whilst a serving officer, by senior male colleagues.

‘Bella’ - a student, stalked and terrorised by a man via her mobile phone, for seven years of her young life.

But what has struck us this time round are the now growing voices calling for men to take greater responsibility for this societal shame. 

And not just some men.

All men. 

An important conversation has opened up around the need for good men to act, to speak up,  not wait for the bad ones to reform.  There are some great examples leading the way. 

Nazir Afzal was a former Chief Prosecutor for the CPS.

He’s enraged by the generations of systemic failure in addressing men’s violence against women.  He told me he once tried to organise a men’s march in protest - a call for thousands to come to Westminster.

52 men signed up.

In his view, even perceived low-level sexist language is part of an overall picture of tolerance of abuse of women.  He tells me every aspect of male attitudes towards women as equals now has to be examined - and the malign called out. He makes a direct comparison with the approach taken towards extremism.

There is important work being done to address the mindset of some men.

We spoke to a perpetrator of verbal domestic abuse, now on a rehabilitation programme to address his cruel behaviour, which saw his partner and children flee to a refuge. 

It was a deeply uncomfortable conversation. But he appeared to be honest in his head-hanging shame.

And he said no man should compromise their language, attitude and actions when it comes to treating women as equal. And men should call one another out.

"I actually pull my friends up now if I hear them saying (sexist) stuff like that," he tells me. "I will not tolerate it under any circumstances... men need to change their ways big time”.

I’ve been talking to my sons about this. It is never good enough to simply ignore so-called banter, still less, clearly, physical abuse. 

It’s a conversation that needs to happen in every workplace. It isn’t enough to lay on safety courses for women, vital though they are. All our male colleagues - wherever we work -  most of whom have of course been horrified by Sarah Everard’s murder too - have to be engaged with it. 

Because when it comes to every woman’s right to live her life in true freedom - every man has a stake in it. And we cannot let this moment go to waste.

Watch the Tonight programme: 'Women - How Safe Are We?' - Thursday 8 April at 7.30pm, on ITV and ITV Hub