Sabina Nessa: What Must Change To End Violence Against Women

After the 28-year-old was killed, campaigners spell out how policies and attitudes need to be overhauled to tackle a "shadow pandemic".
British police investigating the killing of a 28-year-old woman in London say they are probing whether she was attacked by a stranger.
British police investigating the killing of a 28-year-old woman in London say they are probing whether she was attacked by a stranger.
via Associated Press

Sabina Nessa was walking through a park to meet a friend at a bar, on a journey that should’ve taken five minutes, when she was killed a week ago.

On Friday, the Metropolitan Police said a 38-year-old man who had been arrested on suspicion of the murder of the 28-year-old teacher was released.

A vigil was held for her on the same night at Peglar Square in Kidbrooke Village, southeast London, close to where her body was found.

Sadly, Sabina’s death is not out-of-the-ordinary. Around 200 women were killed last year in Great Britain, according to official figures.

But what’s being done to make sure women are protected?

Violence against women and girls (known as VAWG) in the UK is a “shadow pandemic”, according to sexual harassment lawyer Deeba Syed. She is calling for drastic change to attitudes, policies and policing so women can feel safe.

People gather in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard.
People gather in Clapham Common, in memory of Sarah Everard.
via Associated Press

A sense of ‘urgency’

Syed believes violence against women and girls is “much more common” than people think.

“So many women have died in similar circumstances, there’ve been the high profile cases of Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry, and now this. But there have been so many cases in between that many people haven’t heard of.

“There’s not enough urgency in the way it’s being tackled and there’s not enough understanding of the ways that this impacts women. It impacts on all women, but particularly women of colour who are at a higher risk of violence.”

Syed questions whether measures such as more plain-clothed police officers and more street lighting – which have been proposed by the authorities – are really going to tackle the immediate issues women face.

“How many more women have to die before it’s seen as the urgent matter that
it is?”

Connecting strategies on violence and domestic abuse

“This is the shadow pandemic that’s just ignored,” says Syed.

Her thoughts are shared by Farah Nazeer from Women’s Aid, a charity fighting to end domestic abuse in the UK.

“We know that women’s experiences of violence and abuse are interconnected,” says Nazeer.

“Strategically the government needs to respond to this. We are concerned that disconnecting the VAWG strategy from domestic abuse by creating a separate strategy is a backward step.”

“The treatment of Sabina’s death has not been on the same level as others, and time and time again we see how victims from Black and minority communities do not receive the same level of attention and support. It is simply not good enough, and it has to change.”

- Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women's Aid

And she especially wants to see better mental health support for women who have experienced violence with “specific ring-fenced funding for services run ‘by and for’ Black and minority women.”

Improving police understanding of the dangers faced by women

Some of the work Women’s Aid carries out includes working with police forces to deliver training around the response to survivors of domestic abuse.

But Nazeer says the reality of police forces understanding the dangers women face is still “inadequate”.

Syed wants to see every case taken “more seriously” when it comes to women going missing and similar incidents.

“After the Sarah Everard outcry, what we saw was the police telling women ‘don’t go outside’. We’re still in this place where we are telling women to moderate their behaviour to keep themselves safe when women should be able to walk down the street without having to fear for their lives.”

They’re not the only group calling for the police to do more.

A police watchdog, the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services, recently said that violence against women should be treated as seriously as terrorism, and there are still areas where the police are failing women.

A police officer stands by floral tributes at Cator Park in Kidbrooke, near to the area where the body of Sabina Nessa was found.
A police officer stands by floral tributes at Cator Park in Kidbrooke, near to the area where the body of Sabina Nessa was found.
via Associated Press

The government must step up, and not wait for a social media outcry

In July, the government revealed plans to tackle violence against women and girls.

Following Sabina’s death, a spokesperson for the prime minister said the strategy would “drive long-term change” but many are sceptical.

“It’s taken grassroots activists and people on social media to demand that her [Sabina’s] story gets more attention,” says Syed.

She thinks the government’s strategy doesn’t go “far enough”.

“VAWG services have been underfunded for years, it hasn’t been seen as important, and it’s not been seen as a priority.”

Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, believes women are “being let down” because of the lack of reporting and potential crimes not being investigated.

“We have to take on the culture within the police and politics that doesn’t recognise the warning signs in perpetrators behaviour and so leaves women in harms way.”

Syed has used her own social platforms to raise awareness about stories like Sabina’s. Even though she feels a social media outcry shouldn’t be the only reason for the government to pay attention, she’s glad to see people online trying to help.

She said: “We saw in the Sarah Everard case how crucial social media was to raising awareness and creating a response.

“This is a long standing problem that needs an urgent kind of solution that shouldn’t just be based on social media outcry.”

Help and support:

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321

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