Women in Plymouth come forward surrounding sexual harassment and sexual assault incidents

After the news about Sarah Everard, more and more women have come forward to talk about sexual harassment, sexual assault or even times they have felt uncomfortable in the presence of men.

Here in Plymouth, with the presence of two Universities, it means there is a lot of student housing, in and around the city; areas where some men will target. When women are sexually assaulted or harassed, they don’t always report this to the police. In 2019/2020, Devon and Cornwall Police estimated: “1.8% of the population aged 16-74 years were victims of sexual assault… this equates to 23,400 victims in the Peninsula,” with 18,800 of those being women. However, police data shows that only “2,400 sexual assaults involving adult victims were reported in 2019/20”. Although these crimes are quite rare, especially in Devon and Cornwall, it is still happening and students are easy targets for those carrying out the attack.

Lauren Edwards, a Plymouth Marjon University student who is also the Marjon Student Union president, was happy to share her story. She experienced both sexual assault and sexual harassment on two different occasions, at different nightclubs in Plymouth. The first occasion, happened whilst in Fever boutique and nightclub. “I had a man go under my skirt and grab me after touching me as I walked past loads of other times that same night,” after experiencing this Lauren was left very upset and had her friend take her home. The individual who assaulted her was with a massive group of friends who laughed at her, which Lauren said was “obviously horrible”. 

 Unfortunately incidents like this happen often in nightclubs to women, so often that Lauren also experienced sexual harassment in a different nightclub, Pryzm. When walking back down the stairs she was approached by two men who said “look at her tits jiggle”, which left Lauren feeling freaked out as she was alone at the time of the incident. On top of this she can recall other times where she has been ‘catcalled’ in areas of Plymouth such as Mutley, or even felt “nervous around taxi drivers”.

Both The University of Plymouth and Plymouth Marjon University have policies which allow students to report sexual harassment and assault anonymously or seek help from an adviser. This clearly shows that universities are aware of what goes on and try to prevent it escalating by offering support. For women who are willing to come forward and report the crime to the police, they can then arrange for you to attend a sexual assault referral centre, where NHS doctors and nurses are willing to provide medical, practical and emotional support. Some women are unsure on whether to report the assault to the police, but you can still refer yourself to an SARC for an assessment or medical treatment.

Another woman who was willing to come forward, called Marie, can recall a day back in 2018, where she witnessed an incident happen around 3:30pm as she walked from Plymouth Marjon University back to her car which she had left at the Park and Ride. After turning onto Runway Road, she noticed a woman who was walking at quite a fast pace, fast enough that Marie wasn’t able to keep up with her (due to her carrying some books and equipment). A man dressed in what she believes to be “PCC uniform” also turned onto Runway Road, coming from the direction of the sports centre. He was also walking a bit quicker than Marie, and as he spotted the woman he began to speed up. Marie said she saw him “holding his phone at a weird angle… upright directly in front of his head,” she said “I could clearly see he was taking photographs of this woman”. Marie tried to catch up with them both but she physically couldn’t, due to all the stuff she was carrying. After the woman crossed the road in a risky place, the man continued to follow her, but this time he ran meaning he was even closer to her. Both the man and woman were on the Southway side of the road and Marie was heading towards the Park and Ride, where Marie could see that “he was still taking photos of her”. Luckily, the woman stuck to the main road to Roborough Surgery, whilst the male individual took the shortcut. After Marie raced in her car from the Park and Ride onto Morgan Road and past the traffic lights onto Southway Drive, she said “the woman was standing on the corner next to Roborough Surgery,” to Marie’s “utter relief and delight”. After explaining what she had witnessed to the woman involved, the woman explained how “the man had appeared from the shortcut, stared at her and made her feel uncomfortable”.

Marie believes the woman was very lucky that day, “who knows what would have happened had he followed her home, or if they had both taken the shortcut”. This proves that incidents like these can happen even in broad daylight, no one around would’ve noticed. Marie took photos of the man in the act, before sending them to the woman involved, so she was able to make a police report. Even though the woman posted about what had happened in the local Facebook group, the man was never identified. Time has passed and Marie still hasn’t heard anything from the police, saying she can “only assume this man is still walking freely”. Marie said she has “never been so worried for another person’s safety as I was that day, it has definitely changed my view of being out alone, even in the daytime”.

Due to the recent news surrounding Sarah Everard, and how she was killed on her way home from a friends house, it has sparked conversation amongst many women and the fear they all share whilst walking home at night. On Twitter, there is a page ‘Plymouth Safeguarding Adults Partnership’ who provide links to directly report abuse on behalf of yourself, or someone else https://plymouth.gov.uk/reportabuse. More people are now talking openly about experiences they have had and are coming together with other women who can relate to them. The hashtag #Youarenotalone was used in relation to the international day for the elimination of violence against women in November, and has been used again recently to reach out to others and provide support for those experiencing abuse.

Incidents like these can happen anytime, anywhere, and it has been shown women living in Plymouth can definitely relate.

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