Southwark Council takes action on violence against women and girls

8 November 2021

Today, Southwark Council is highlighting the issue of violence against women and girls, with a new initiative to provide 32 safe spaces in the borough for anyone experiencing violence or domestic abuse.

Alongside this, a raft of other actions have been taking place, and Safer Street funding secured to further invest in support and prevention of violence to women and girls. 

A Safe Space is where people who are experiencing domestic abuse can make a phone call to get help. Domestic abuse is any kind of threatening or controlling behaviour, violence or abuse – from a partner, ex-partner or family member. This can take many forms. It includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. 

Many people in this situation cannot make a phone call from home or on a mobile phone. A Safe Space is where they can get the help they need.

A Safe Space room might be in a school, children's centre or other building. There are currently 32 Safe Spaces rooms around the borough and there will be more soon. The council's ambition is to have safe spaces close-by in every community in Southwark. 

Today, Southwark Council’s cabinet member Evelyn Akoto, who leads on health and wellbeing in the borough, and Councillor Leanne Werner, deputy cabinet member for domestic abuse, visited a safe space in the borough. 

Cllr Werner said, “We know that domestic abuse often includes control and coercion and can leave people powerless to escape, with lines of communications such as friends, relatives and mobile phones cut off from them. This new service provides a discreet and safe space for people to make that vital call to get help.”

Those who need help do not need to provide any information to go to a Safe Space room. All they need to do is ask at reception to go to the Safe Space room. In the room they will find a phone and information about who to call to get help. Nobody else will be in the room with them.

Everything said in a Safe Space room is confidential. Help is free of charge and available to everyone. A person’s background, financial situation, nationality or immigration status do not matter. 

This comes as Southwark Council recently co-hosted the police commissioner, Cressida Dick, at a round table event as Project Vigilant was launched – a pilot scheme to monitor Southwark and Lambeth’s night-time economy for any unwanted male behaviour towards women. 

Councillor Evelyn Akoto, cabinet member for health and wellbeing, who leads on safety, said: “Women should never feel unsafe as they go about their lives, it’s not acceptable for women to be made to feel awkward, intimidated, embarrassed, frightened or threatened by other people’s behaviour. We see our partnership work with the police as ensuring that men are challenged on inappropriate, aggressive or unwanted behaviour towards women. This is less about women being subjected to further surveillance themselves, and much more about ensuring that men understand what constitutes unacceptable or even criminal behaviour, so that women are safe and reassured. Men who commit these actions will need to take full responsibility and will be held to account.”

As well as its partnership work with the police on Project Vigilant, the council has its own Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategy to keep women safe, involving all aspects of council business, including: 

The council developed its own Women’s Safety Charter in 2014 and this more recently fed into the GLA’s commitment called the Women’s Night Safety Charter, which responded to the tragic murder of Sarah Everard. The council signed up alongside 18 other authorities to ensure high standards of training on how to keep women safe in all council operational work, in work with our business premises and night-time economy. 

The council’s women’s safety survey, conducted between May and June this year in order to research local opinion following the murder of Sarah Everard, achieved 568 responses. Just over half (52%) of those who responded felt ‘unsafe’ and 92% cited their gender as a reason to feel unsafe, particularly when travelling through transport hubs, and at night. Underreporting was a key issue highlighted by many women who had experienced abuse of some kind with many unsure of what constitutes a crime. The council has committed to, and already actioned, some of the points raised. The survey and response to it fits into many of the council’s VAWG strands of activity and ambition. 

Among many suggestions around lighting, faster ways (such as ‘help me’ buttons) to alert the police when a crime is happening, and greater training for staff to support and protect women, a suggestion for safe spaces has been undertaken by the council and introduced in 32 locations across the borough. These places will provide somewhere safe for women to seek help and discreetly make a call if they are in danger or experiencing abuse or harassment. 

The council has successfully bid for Home Office funding to improve women’s safety in public spaces and add to the council’s VAWG strategy. The Safer Streets funding of £353,661, confirmed this week, contributes to the council’s existing night-time economy partnership work in the borough, to improve the safety of public places, maintaining and improving our extensive CCTV network and for extra resources around transport hubs, such as policing and licensing work. 

The council works hand in glove with Solace Women’s Aid which is funded to provide an extensive support programme for any resident experiencing domestic abuse. This includes women having a safe place to seek housing assistance if they are suffering domestic abuse. Solace workers are embedded in the council’s homelessness service to offer specialist help, advice and support to those who find that leaving an abusive relationship presents a housing issue for them and their children. 

Page last updated: 08 November 2021