Women from the Lambeth Anti-Harassment Campaign have told HuffPost UK how despite managing to meet with every MP in the borough, Transport for London, the British Transport Police and local policing boards, their requests to meet with councillors from Lambeth Council were ignored until the tragic disappearance of Sarah Everard came to light.
The campaign group, which is run by women living in the area and several members of the Women’s Equality party, carried out a survey in 2020 of more than 200 women in London to find out more about residents’ experiences of street harassment.
They found that 80% of respondents had experienced street harassment, with 19% saying they had never experienced it but had witnessed it.
Everard, who went missing on March 3, was last seen as she walked between a friend’s house in Clapham and her home in Brixton, which is in Lambeth.
The group had identified a number of hotspots for harassment through its survey in the borough, including Brixton Market, Brockwell Park, the area surrounding Pop Brixton and construction sites in Vauxhall.
In emails seen by HuffPost UK, the group first reached out to councillors in November 2020 to inform them of their findings. Despite asking for a meeting, the group did not hear back.
Another email, sent in December to follow up the previous message, was not responded to.
After a third email the group finally had a response, though the request for a meeting was ignored and they were instead invited to submit their evidence as part of an upcoming consultation on the council’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy.
It wasn’t until a fourth email was sent on March 11, a day after it was confirmed that human remains had been found in the search for Sarah Everard, that the group was invited to meet with councillors.
Another founding member of the campaign group, who did not want to be named, said: “Street harassment is something a group of us living in the local area have raised several times with councillors just over the last few months only to be repeatedly ignored.
“We just wish it didn’t take a tragedy, a terrible event, for them to take this seriously. It shouldn’t have taken that for a meeting to be sorted.
“When we were watching the news we were just struck that women had been reporting attacks an incidents because that pretty much marries up with our experiences because all of us have been through instances of harassment in Lambeth.”
She described how one woman, after experiencing repeated harassment and intimidation in her local area, had decided to move to a different borough altogether in order to try and escape an “increasingly hostile environment”.
Emily Reddon, 29, has lived in the Lambeth area for the past four years. As a keen runner she’s experienced countless instances of harassment, from shouts and whistles as she passes, to being surrounded by groups of men in broad daylight.
On one early morning run, she tells HuffPost UK, she experienced four separate instances of street harassment in little more than 25 minutes.
She said: “Unfortunately being harassed has become par for the course if you’re a woman running in public, which is obviously not acceptable.
“I was running once on a lunch break and as I was coming back to the office there was a group of perhaps five or six quite young men who just ran into the pavement in front of me, surrounded me, and started screaming at me.
“I was able to run past them and get away, but when I turned back they were just laughing at me like it was some hilarious joke. What’s crazy was that I just went back to the office, showered, ate lunch at my desk and carried on with my day.
“I didn’t even mention it to anyone, because you just kind of think: ‘That’s normal, right?’”
Lambeth Council said it had previously engaged with the Women’s Equality Party, particularly around the issue of domestic violence during lockdown, but did not specifically say whether this included the Lambeth Anti-Harassment Campaign.
A spokesperson for the authority said: “Street harassment faced by women and girls in our borough, as well as all gender-based violence, are totally unacceptable and issues we take extremely seriously.
“This council has consistently prioritised funding for services to tackle violence against women in girls, despite a decade of government funding cuts.
“The borough’s violence against women and girls consultation has been co-produced with Lambeth residents with lived experience, and has informed the creation of our new violence against women and girls strategy which will be published later this year. We have engaged with a wide range of stakeholders throughout.
“Prior to the Covid-19 lockdowns our Youth Council joined the #itmademefeel campaign which saw young people chalk messages about sexual harassment around Brixton to share their experience, and to send the message that this kind of behaviour by men and boys is unacceptable.
“We remain committed to campaigning for the male behaviour change we must see, and working hard to supporting our communities in achieving that.”