What is the plan to tackle violence against women in Plymouth?

A member of the public walks past the latest mural by Irish artist Emmalene Blake in Dublin's city centre. The inscription 'When will I be able to walk alone at night and feel safe?' relates to violence against women in the wake of the death of Sarah Everard. Picture date: Monday March 29, 2021.
The commission aims to make Plymouth a safer place for women and girls. Credit: PA

There are hopes Plymouth will become a city which does not tolerate sexist or misogynistic language.

Fresh plans to educated men and boys have been announced in a report by the UK’s first Violence Against Women and Girls Commission.

Plymouth City Council set up the commission following the murder of teenager Bobbi-Anne McLeod, who was killed by Cody Ackland.

Between January and May this year, the commission looked at what is being done prevent crimes against women and educate men and boys on violence against women.

It also looked at the type of support available to women.

Councillor Sally Haydon, the Labour representative who sat on the Commission, said: "This is the time to show the women and girls of Plymouth that our leaders are listening and that things can – and they must – change.”

The commission spoke to 1,327 people in the city and has now made 15 recommendations, including better education for men and boys and creating safe spaces throughout the city for women and girls.

What are the key recommendations to prevent violence against women and girls in Plymouth?

  • Commit to being a city that does not tolerate sexist or misogynistic language and behaviour full stop.

  • Support men and boys to be ‘active bystanders’ who feel confident to challenge inappropriate behaviour and language

  • Create a culture where it is safe to have open and honest conversations about sexism, misogyny and male violence and its impact on women and girls

  • Ensure that women and girls are empowered to speak out against harassment and supported to report violence and abuse

  • Ensure that women and girls who have been subjected to male violence get the support they need at the right time and place and only need to tell their story once

Chair of the commission councillor Rebecca Smith told ITV News: "It is now over to the people of Plymouth to actually help us put this into play and to ensure that we do see this change for young women and young men right across the city so that this culture of violence against women and girls ends.

"Culture change doesn't happen overnight but if you don't start somewhere, you're never going to deliver it. Think about drink driving. We never thought we'd tackle drink driving and stop people thinking it was okay to have several drinks and get in that car. But that changed didn't it? It doesn't mean it stopped completely. But the culture has shifted.

"I'm really positive that over time, we will be able to look back and see some palpable change in Plymouth as a result of this commission. I'm actually pretty confident we will see some concrete movement in the right direction within the next couple of months, if not sooner. 

"My hope is that they read this report and they can see that this piece of work has been done in our city, which hasn't really been done anywhere else, so we're ahead of the game.

"We've taken their concerns and we've looked to see what we can do about it so I hope they do feel reassured. It's not going to change overnight but we can start those step changes immediately and begin to see change over the medium to long term to have a real impact on how we live our lives."

Three marches have taken place in Plymouth since Bobbi-Anne's murder to end Violence Against Women and Girls.

Former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England, Nazir Afzal OBE - who has 24 years of experience working on cases like Bobbi-Anne's - was an independent advisor for the Commission.

He said: "The City of Plymouth has had more than its fair share of violence against women and girls this past year and the terrible crimes are a reflection of the journey that all of us are on to eliminate these harms.

"The Commission is a bold and brave development, and its findings and recommendations are in many respects ground-breaking, but they are all evidence-based responses to the significant challenges that we face.

"At its heart is the understanding that we can’t just repeat the same mistakes and that we must address the causes and not just the consequences.

“Plymouth knows eliminating violence is everybody’s business and this report is the beginning of that journey.”

Cllr Charlotte Holloway, Labour City Councillor told ITV News: "What we really need to see now is an action plan. We need to see proper resources put behind making the recommendations a success.

"And what we really need to do is make sure that those that own and deliver on the commission communicate to the women and girls of Plymouth. What difference is this really going to make for them.

"For the women and girls of Plymouth now is really the time to turn these recommendations into action. Let's have a plan and let's tell women and girls in Plymouth what their political leaders, the police and all the other agencies are doing to make them feel safer.

Now is the time we need to convert a solid 30 page report into real action."