'Women deserve to feel safe' - anger after Waterfront sex attack
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
More needs to be done to make women feel safe on the streets of Ipswich - that is the call from campaigners following a sex attack on the Waterfront.
Shock at the early morning attack, which saw a young woman chased along the Waterfront into a courtyard behind The Mill building before being sexually assaulted, has reverberated around the town.
Laura Polley, organiser of Suffolk's Reclaim the Streets movement, is working with Suffolk Rape Crisis to plan a march in Ipswich to highlight women's concerns.
She said: "I personally wouldn't feel safe going out in Ipswich without peers. Women pretend to know each other if they feel unsafe. I know a woman who has gone so far as to get a fake wedding ring to avoid attraction from men."
She thinks campaigning for women's safety needs to be more innovative and suggests authorities look at initiatives like Strutt Safe Edinburgh, which helps women get home in the Scottish city.
She also believes a night bus could give women a safer alternative to walking home alone.
"But this is not women's problem to fix," she added. "It's around men's behaviour and what they think is OK.
"It's a cultural adjustment and is about educating men on their behaviour early in life. It's not an overnight fix.
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Ipswich MP Tom Hunt said he has been contacted by women who say they do not go out because of fears about safety.
He argued it is not right that his constituents do not feel safe and said "decisive action is needed".
"I don't think it is acceptable for people to feel unsafe going about their town. I don't want to be overly sensational and to create anxiety, there is always going to be crime but I am concerned about these incidents, and about drugs."
He called for more police on the streets after dark and more extensive CCTV coverage, and said a night bus would give women, and men, a safer way to get home after a night out.
There are bids in for new bars on the Waterfront with BrewDog looking to open in the former cycle cafe and Bloom Lounge intending to take on the former gym. Mr Hunt believes having more bars and a more vibrant night time economy could make the town feel safer.
He said: "If there was a lot more people or a crowd it would be better, and wouldn't seem so eerily quiet at certain times of the day."
Nationally it has been highlighted that there is a shortage of door supervisors but PJ Bartle, general manager at Revolution, said his establishment have procedures in place to make sure women are as safe as they can possibly be.
Like many bars, Revolution runs the Ask For Angela scheme where women in distress can go to the bar, ask for ‘Angela’ and bar staff can discreetly book a taxi or take them to a safe space in another room.
He added: “We also escort people to taxi ranks or we wait with them for a relative to pick them up to make sure they're OK.”
He also pointed out that the Waterfront is not well lit and reiterated the need for more surveillance cameras in the area.
Superintendent Jane Topping, of Suffolk police, said: “Throughout the past four weeks we have had additional officers patrolling the centre of Ipswich on Friday and Saturday nights. We have also taken other measures to focus on areas where they may be concerns over lighting or which are slightly more isolated.
“As part of our night-time economy policing we liaise closely with the council’s CCTV team who monitor the police radio for incidents. We also liaise with door staff of late night venues to understand any concerns they have and to ensure they are aware of those who may be vulnerable.
“We take violence against women and girls extremely seriously. Suffolk Constabulary and the Police and Crime Commissioner have worked with Ipswich Borough Council to secure additional funding under the Safer Streets initiative. This will lead to further targeted activity to ensure Ipswich is made as safe as possible for women.
“Although assaults such as the one over the weekend are relatively rare in Ipswich we understand the concerns which arise from it, and are working hard to ensure the person responsible is arrested.“