22 April 2024

Pilot scheme to help prevent abuse of women in public life

A partnership pilot scheme to provide additional support to local women in public life who are at the receiving end of abusive emails and social media posts has been launched.

Known as gender abuse, perpetrators sometimes threaten violence, which is often sexual and with deeply upsetting content.

Members of Salisbury Soroptimists, who have been coordinating and leading a Women’s Safety Initiative in the city, learned from female councillors that, unlike MPs, there is no bespoke reporting structure for female councillors or women who work or volunteer in public service.

Liz Batten of the Soroptimist project group said: “We are saying ‘it’s not ok’ to be personally abusive to any woman – but we believe that those women who give of their time and energy to serve their local community deserve to be better protected from this kind of gender-based abuse.

We are pleased that Wiltshire Police agreed with us that women should be encouraged to report the gender abuse they receive so that enquiries can be made to identify the perpetrators and assess any immediate risk.”

Through Operation Awake, female councillors and other women in public life will be encouraged to telephone 101 to report any such abuse, whether written, verbal or on social media, and quote Operation Awake to the call handler.

Victoria Charleston, a Salisbury City Councillor, said, “This is a welcome move by Wiltshire Police and a fantastic initiative being pushed by Salisbury Soroptimists. When a person puts themselves forward for public life, they sign up for robust debate, not personal attacks, and I welcome this pilot project.

Of course, this goes much wider than female councillors and requires more of a response than solely policing. Sexual harassment and violence is endemic within society. We need a societal response to what is going on in our schools and on our streets.

They will ensure that the call is dealt with through this new mechanism. Police will then ensure that incidents and offences can be analysed to identify serial perpetrators or inform patrol strategies and will support publicity campaigns and engagement to encourage reporting.

Where appropriate, these will be dealt with as crimes and investigated. Where the matter does not meet a criminal threshold for investigation, the information supplied will be used to help identify patterns of behaviour and, ultimately, to pinpoint repeat offenders. We hope that by building a stronger intelligence picture, the police can proactively deploy resources to target potential perpetrators and prevent offences.

This pilot is closely allied to Project Vigilant, which seeks to build trust and confidence in policing, facilitate perpetrators’ relentless pursuit, and create safer spaces for women and girls.

The aim is to make a positive difference in women’s lives in public life and encourage young women to consider standing for public office and furthering their careers without the shadow of this kind of abuse.

Written by
Andy Munns
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Written by Andy Munns