What would make the UK safer for women, according to women?

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
May 10, 2021, 12:31 PM UTC

Most Britons say tougher sentencing for sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence would be effective, but are split on undercover cops in clubs

Sarah Everard’s killing in March prompted vigils, protests, and debates on women’s safety. New YouGov data shows that women overwhelmingly feel not enough is being done to ensure their safety and that men in particular should do more.

Three quarters of women (76%) say men in society don’t pull their weight in keeping women and girls safe. Men tend to agree (63%), although a fifth (20%) consider their gender overall to be doing enough – almost three times the number of women who think so (7%).

Seven in ten women (69%) also say the government’s efforts are lacking, compared with 59% of men. A majority of women (62%) similarly feel the police aren’t doing enough, while around half of men (52%) agree.

Tougher sentencing? Better lighting? More CCTV? What would make the UK safer for women

The debate on women’s safety has encompassed everything from tongue in cheek suggestions to impose 6pm curfews on men to the government’s plans to increase the presence of undercover cops in nightclubs.

But women are most likely to say imposing tougher sentencing for sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence would be effective at 89%, including 69% who say it would be “very effective”. While three quarters of men (76%) agree it would help, only around half (48%) believe it would very effective.

Making the police take reports of sexual harassment more seriously is also regarded as likely to be effective among 88% of women and 79% of men. But there’s a big difference between how many men and women expect it to be very impactful at 61% vs 42%. The issue came under scrutiny after officers allegedly failed to help a woman after a man flashed her as she made her way home from the vigil for Sarah Everard.

In response to Everard’s death, the government announced £25m for better street lighting and CCTV in addition to a pilot scheme involving plain clothes officers in pubs and clubs.

Some 85% of women and 77% of men believe better-lit streets could help improve safety for women, while increased CCTV coverage in public places is also regarded as effective (78% of women vs 65% of men).

But the public are split on the effectiveness of having undercover police in bars and clubs, with 49% of women and 37% of men saying it would be effective. That is not to say such a policy is unpopular, however. A YouGov poll for ITV Peston showed that a large majority – 67% – would back having cops in clubs.

Should women or men adapt their behaviour to make the streets safer for women?

Much of the debate around women’s safety has centred on whether women or men should be the ones to adapt their behaviour. While previous YouGov research shows that many women are already taking numerous measures to avoid men sexually assaulting them, 62% of women and 58% of men believe that better education for women on how to do so would help.

But this view is much more common among the older generations. Seven in ten women aged 55+ (72%) see merit in it, compared with only a third of women aged 18-24 (32%). The same pattern is clear among men, with two thirds of men aged 55+ (64%) convinced in the use of extra education, compared with only a third of those aged 18 to 24 (24%).

Meanwhile, women are much more likely than men to see the benefit of making schools teach boys about acceptable and respectable behaviour towards females. While four in five women (81%) and 69% of men see value in the initiative overall, 61% of women say it would be very effective, compared with only 42% of men.

The same split is clear when it comes to men doing more to criticise their male friends for bad behaviour towards women. While four in five women say it would very (54%) or fairly (32%) effective, men are less inclined to say so (33% very, 35% fairly),

See the full results here