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Sex offences in Plymouth up 25 per cent

Thursday, 23 November 2023 16:38

By Alison Stephenson, local democracy reporter

Plymouth Crown Court (image courtesy: LDRS)

Support for plans against violence against women

Cross party support has been given to a strategy to make Plymouth safer after it was revealed that sexual offences have risen dramatically and domestic violence account for one in five crimes in the city.

Plymouth councillors unanimously backed a three-year citywide approach to tackle violence against women and girls (VAWG), which 89 per cent of people surveyed thought a problem in Plymouth, and domestic and sexual abuse, which is now the third most common reason for homelessness in the city.

The Plymouth Violence Against Women and Girls Commission was set up by last year by the city council in response to the Keyham shootings in August 2021 and the murder of Bobbi-Anne McLeod, who was snatched from a bus stop by self-confessed murder obsessive Cody Ackland three months later.

Since then organisations including Plymouth’s women’s charity Trevi, the NSPCC, First Light, Mental Health Alliance, M.A.N Culture and others have been working with the council to drive culture change as well as provide support and safe places for people who have been subject to violence and domestic abuse.

As part of the commitment for change, the city will be taking part in the international campaign 16 Days of Activism starting on Saturday, demanding an end to violence against women and girls. It will include a youth conference.

Cllr Lauren McLay (Green, Plympton Chaddlewood) said with sexual offences up by 25 per cent, and three in four people surveyed feeling unsafe when out at night in the city, Plymouth needed to do better. Street lighting, night buses and community policing all needed addressing.

She said as a young woman she had become numb to cat calling and inappropriate comments and as a young councillor she had become accustomed to sexist remarks.

She said she had faced intimidating behaviour from men, had been harassed in broad daylight in Mutley Plain and suffered a terrifying three days when her flat was broken into.

“Sadly my experiences are common, but they shouldn’t be. I am tired of location sharing and messaging people to let them know I have got home safe, of outfit changes, behaviour modifications and appeasing bad behaviour in fear of retaliation. I am tired of no not meaning no, and am really tired that every woman has story like mine, or worse, to share.

“We must be steadfast in our commitment to progress. It means addressing the mental health crisis, believing victims, instilling the importance of healthy relationships from a young age, calling out bad behaviour when we see it and ensuring the work in this area is not only on women’s shoulders. It is on all of us to bear. Let’s do better, because we must.”

Cllr Ian Poyser (Green, Plympton Chaddlewood) said masculinity was a product of society and there was an expectation of men to fill a certain role. This could bring a lot of pressure to men and shame if they got it wrong.

He said many young boys were exposed to hard core pornography from a young age.

“Porn has been described as the public health crisis of the digital age and can be a harmful coping strategy adopted by men.

“Growing up as a young boy trying to figure out what makes a man a man is very tough.”

Cllr Rebecca Smith (Con, Plymstock Radford) said the moves to make Plymouth a safer place had everyone’s support: “The action plan against VAWG and the domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy is about everyone in our city, those who may be victims, those who could be perpetrators and those who have no idea at the moment that sadly they might be at risk in the future.”

She praised the work going on in the city for a decade prior to the commission being set up, which had built a strong foundation.

VAWG Champion Cllr Zoe Reilly (Lab, Honicknowle) said she had been “blown away” by the enthusiasm and support from all the organisations involved.

She said services had been lacking in the past but now it is important they kept the momentum going.

On domestic abuse she said: “When I see someone in this space, I see, it, I feel it, I dedicate my life to stopping it because it is rubbish and it is lonely.”

As part of the action plan there will be a city-wide training programme to increase confidence knowledge and skills around VAWG and domestic and sexual violence.

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