Lewisham women combat sexual harassment

Pic: Ladywell Women

A group of Ladywell residents have taken matters into their own hands as 2023 Metropolitan Police Data shows Lewisham has joined Croydon and Tower Hamlets in the top ten boroughs in London for rates of sexual offences.

The Women’s Survey, spearheaded by local campaign group Ladywell Women and designed by UCL senior research fellow Meena Khatwa, aims to map sexual harassment hotspots across the ward and reverse a reduction of specialist women’s services in recent years. 

Heather Wakefield, founding member of Ladywell Women, told ELL: “There used to be a Women’s Centre, there used to be a women’s employment project. Now they’ve all gone.” 

Despite offences falling slightly over the past three years, the ward maintains the second-highest rate of sexual offences in the borough.

Wakefield hopes the Women’s Survey will reverse this trend by: “raising awareness of the street harassment and violence faced by local women, highlighting unsafe areas of Ladywell, and improving the police and council response to the issue.”

Founded in 2021, Ladywell Women aims to address gender-based violence and follow in the footsteps of similar campaigns within the ELL region. 

In 2021, Hackney had the 7th highest rate of sexual offences in London, causing the Council to launch a public interactive portal to track street harassment incidences. 

Since then, survey data has been used to develop the Hackney Eliminating Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy 2022-2025, and rates of sexual offences have fallen.

Councillor Susan Fajana-Thomas OBE, Cabinet Member for Community Safety in Hackney, told ELL: “We installed and funded an enhanced CCTV network; improved street lighting; and removed light blockages [and now] regularly deliver Bystander Intervention Training across the borough.”

Today, Hackney ranks 13th for sexual offences while Lewisham has moved from 14th to 10th place. Croydon occupies 8th position and Tower Hamlets is the worst performing local borough in 2023 in 6th place.

£5,000 from Lewisham’s Community Infrastructure Levy has helped the 100-member voluntary group finance the survey and plan for additional projects.

These include a ‘safety spots’ scheme which would signpost victims of harassment to shops, cafes, or centres willing to provide immediate shelter to those in need. The idea could be brought for discussion with local businesses in the new year.

The group also runs a number of free women’s walks which Wakefield said are: “designed to familiarise women with the area” and “give them confidence to walk at night.” 

Ladywell Women have previously held a Vigil in partnership with local historian Julie Robinson to remember 17-year-old Jane Clouson, a young Deptford woman murdered in 1871 and whose publicly raised memorial still stands in Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery. 

Another walk is planned for tomorrow, Sunday, November 26, following today’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (Saturday, November 25). In the UK, this is more commonly known as White Ribbon Day.

The Ladywell Women’s survey is open until December 15 and all women over 18 in the area are invited to have their say.  Results will be published next year with findings presented to Lewisham Council.

If you or someone you know, has been affected by gender-based crime in the Lewisham area, The Athena Service, run by Refuge, provides confidential, non-judgemental guidance.

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