I was dismayed last week to hear from a friend, a young professional woman who lives near the city centre of Welwyn Garden City, that she'd experienced two separate incidents of abusive behavior within the past two weeks.
The first was whilst jogging in the afternoon, a group of pre-teenaged boys on bikes yelled obscene suggestions. The second, similar but more sinister, occurred as she walked home late in the evening, when four men in a car slowed down to yell, again, a highly offensive sexual comment not fit for print in this newspaper.
Her initial response was to do nothing, because she didn't feel there was anything that could be done. She said "I know this happens everywhere all the time, I just felt dispirited."
My reason for raising it here, is that we must take action, or risk this misogynistic, hateful behaviour becoming the new norm.
My advice to any woman or girl who encounters such abuse is to report it via the police non-emergency number (101), every time. Although it may not result in any immediate action, it helps to build a record of troubled areas and repeat behaviours, which the police can act on.
In both the instances above, it is likely that my friend was not their only target. But if none of the women they harassed reported it, the police have no reason to increase patrols in the area. And if the perpetrators went on to commit a more serious offence, the additional information provided by those who encountered them might provide valuable evidence.
Don't downplay the seriousness of this behaviour. This is not harmless catcalls and wolf-whistles, it is highly offensive and threatening anti-social behaviour. So if you encounter this kind of abuse, take note of details, take a photo if you have your phone and can do so without putting yourself at risk, get a registration number, whatever little bits might help to build a record. And report it. Because their next victim may not be as strong as you.
I am gathering evidence to scope the extent of the problem in Welwyn Hatfield. If you have recently experienced misogynist verbal abuse or harassment and you are willing to share your story, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cllr Dr Barbara Gibson,
Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate