Both of my parents worked full-time in factories.
But my mother also did all the washing, cooking, cleaning and child care. I never thought about this growing up because that was the norm for every household around. It was only later that my understanding was changed. First by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, The Yellow Wallpaper. I read this as a student – though not in 1892 when it was first published. It paints a harrowing portrait of an intelligent but unnamed woman driven to despair and madness by an oppressive domesticity and enforced confinement after the birth of her child. She struggled to find a publisher.
Then I recognised my mother in Virginia Woolf’s description of the kind of selflessness that was demanded of women in pre and post-war society: ‘She sacrificed herself daily. If there was chicken, she took the leg; if there was a draught she sat in it – in short she was so constituted that she never had a mind or a wish of her own, but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others . . .’ Woolf’s fervent desire as a woman writer was to kill this idea of the woman as ‘the angel in the house’.
So we have come a long way in a comparatively short period of time. Or have we? Given how our eyes were opened by Perkins Gilman, Woolf and others, who could have predicted what we are now witnessing – an apparent epidemic of violence by men against women.
Or is this what we should have expected: after centuries of patriarchy, some sort of unconscious male reaction to, or even rejection of, a more equal society? Is this about the erosion of male imperialism, the potential loss of control, and the frustration and anger that brings?
I have no idea. All I do know is that we seem to be living through a time when women are facing a great deal of violence from men.
This is why our Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) is currently hosting a series of round tables in South Yorkshire on the theme of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). We want to understand what is happening: Why do women say they are less confident about going out at night? Why is there so much domestic abuse? Why does female genital mutilation happen here and now? Why are drinks spiked? Why male violence? Why sexual assaults? Why domestic homicide? And so on.
If we can understand a little better, there is a chance we can do more to prevent violence happening in the first place. So what do we know? What can be done? What works? And in the meantime, what support can we give victims?
The round tables started with some of those whose professional work is in this area – the police, the probation service, social workers, Independent Sexual Violence Advocates, and so on. But we are also planning to meet with those who work with victims and to hear directly from the victims themselves. If you think you may have a contribution to make, let us know.
We hope we can have a more co-ordinated response to VAWG across the county. And all this will inform the priorities for my new Police and Crime Plan when it is published early next year.
Violence Against Women and Girls is a national scandal and we must give it our urgent attention.
Where thieves break in and steal
Churches, synagogues, mosques gurdwaras and temples are no more exempt from crimes than any other buildings, not least, it seems, in South Yorkshire. Data obtained from 38 of the 45 UK police force areas by the Countryside Alliance shows that last year over 4,000 crimes were committed in them. These ranged from theft and vandalism to assault and burglary. This was despite the restrictions and lock-downs brought about by the coronavirus.
Among the reported crimes, 1,336 were for theft, of which 115 were for lead, and there were 1,688 acts of criminal damage including arson. The worst affected areas were in the South East with Sussex recording 367, Kent 209 and the Met 575 – though City of London police had nothing to report. The figures for Sussex include six sexual assaults and a rape in churchyards. In Caldecote, Hertfordshire, the windows of the 15th century church of St Mary Magdalene were smashed shortly after the church had re-opened after spending £150,000 to repair previous acts of criminal damage.
But South Yorkshire figures for churches and graveyards were also high at 227. (West Yorkshire was 189 and North Yorkshire 53.) South Yorkshire included 81 cases of theft, 65 of criminal damage and 43 of violence. There were incidents of kidnapping, stalking, drug trafficking, possession of weapons and sexual assault.
Each year the police hold a national week when they focus intensively on metal crime, some of which is stolen from places of worship. Metal is recovered and there have been many prosecutions. Overall, the number of metal theft crimes has decreased – which is good news. But as far as theft and burglary is concerned, there is probably much more that church leaders could do. Isolated churches with lead on easily reachable porch roofs are particularly targeted. And no one should repeat the mistake of the church that conveniently had a wheely bin standing by for thieves to load the lead into and take away.
Perhaps church leaders in South Yorkshire could undertake an annual check of their buildings with a view to prevention.
Stay safe and well