The recent reports of spiking via injections in clubs and the tragic deaths of women such as Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa have brought the epidemic of male violence against women and questions around safety on our streets into sharp focus this year. This prompted BEN CORNWELL to find out how safe people felt on the streets of Hastings and St Leonards. 

Feeling safe when you are going out with friends or walking the dog isn’t asking for much. Yet recently, it appears to be becoming harder than ever for people to feel safe when leaving their homes.

CREDIT: Ben Cornwell 

Back in August, a resident named Debbie was attacked in St Leonards near a chip shop on the King’s Road. She was waiting for her friend outside when a man hit her in the back of the head. He then proceeded to walk into the chip shop as if nothing had happened. The police were called onto the scene and arrested the attacker. However, since giving her statement she has had virtually no updates from the police. The attack has left her feeling afraid to leave the house, which she has compared to being in her “own personal lockdown”. 

“I had never felt threatened and unsafe before walking in Hastings & St Leonards, but I am now really conscious of what is around me. I am really angry that this guy has put me in a position where I now feel unsafe to leave the house.” 

In a separate unrelated incident, a male friend of hers was also attacked from behind in St Leonards and knocked unconscious. The incident has left him scared to walk alone anymore. He used to love walking regularly but is now paying for taxis to and from work every day as it makes him feel safer. 

Debbie believes these types of attacks are ‘inevitable’ in the current climate. Sadly, she can’t see that changing any time soon. 

Men have got to start making change. This is something women cannot do on their own

“You shouldn’t have to tell your children to carry their keys with them in their pocket or to not go to this area after dark. But that’s the way it is,” she said.  “I just wish they would make the penalties more severe so that people may think twice before hurting others.”

Following the murder of Sarah Everard, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the first time decided to ask people about feelings of personal safety when walking alone in different public settings. The survey, which had more than 16,000 respondents, found that people felt less safe when walking alone after dark than during the day. But whilst they may not be surprising to some, the following statistics below are alarming:

• One in two women and one in seven men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a quiet street near their home.

• One in two women and one in five men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a busy public place.

• Four out of five women and two out of five men felt unsafe walking alone after dark in a park or other open space. 

• Two out of three women (aged 16 to 34 years) experienced at least one form of harassment in the past 12 months.

In response to recent events and the ongoing national conversations of women’s safety, groups such as Reclaim These Streets and Our Streets Now have been campaigning and holding peaceful marches across the country demanding that the streets be made safer. 

CREDIT: (left) womens-voice.org.uk (right) Simon Shakesby

On Saturday 23 October more than 100 women marched through the streets of Hastings to protest violence against women. Many brandished placards with messages on them such as “112 Women killed in 2021” and “Justice for Sabina” as they set off from Wellington Square. The Women Reclaim Hastings march was organised by Hastings-based group Women’s Voice who report that since the murder of Sarah Everard in March at least another 80 women in the UK have lost their lives at the hands of men. 

In the days leading up to the march Ann Kramer, Chair of Women’s Voice spoke to HIP about what needs to happen to help put a stop to violence against women.

“Men have got to start making change. This is something women cannot do on their own,” she said. “Boys, young men and older men need to ask themselves how they should be behaving in today’s society. They have got to play a big part in helping bring change. We have to reach a situation in society where it is unthinkable for a man to raise his hand to a woman.”

Alexandra Park is a stunning place to walk in Hastings with its   wooded areas, ponds and reservoirs spread across the park, perfect for walking the dog or observing the local wildlife. But while it may be easy on the eyes, many residents think that the park is in desperate need of change.

Back in March, best friends Claire Noble and Kay Early set up a petition and Facebook group encouraging people to make Alexandra Park safer after Kay had been attacked in the park nine months earlier. She had been walking her dog in the park when a man who had been following her, jumped her and proceeded to repeatedly punch her in the face. Three passers-by saw what had happened and chased him off. The investigation into Kay’s attack was dropped due to a lack of evidence – the police stated that appropriate CCTV footage would have strengthened the case. 

CREDIT: womens-voice.org.uk

The petition has around 19,000 signatures and is calling for the installation of CCTV and appropriate lighting in the park. To minimise the disturbance to wildlife and also satisfy any privacy concerns, the pair are advocating for a single well-monitored path through the park to be called the ‘Indigo Path’. Claire believes it would provide the local community with a safer passage through the park and she thinks it can be easily replicated in other parks around the country.

“We know that cameras and lights aren’t going to magically solve all the issues or stop people from doing something horrible. But if something does happen, it will at least provide the police with evidence to work with.”

In all the reported cases of violence which resulted in injury to the victim (in England and Wales in the year ending March 2021), only 10% led to their attacker being charged or summonsed. 

But whilst the pair hope the path can be introduced as soon as possible, Claire couldn’t stress enough that plans are very much still in the early stages. “We’ve had a couple of meetings with the Hastings Borough Council and, they have reassured us that it is still being discussed. We are currently putting together a plan for the Indigo Path, which I am hoping to send over to the council in the coming weeks,” she said.

If you would like to find out more about their plans for the park, join the ‘Make Alexandra Park Hastings Safe’ Facebook group or visit www.change.org/p/cctv-in-alexandra-park-hastings to read and sign the petition.


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