Sharon spoke to a gethering of women and campaigners at the annual Reclaim the Night march, which ended at Mowbray Park in Sunderland.
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
We’re following in an important tradition by gathering here tonight.
As we know, the original marches in the 70s came about because women were angry at being told by Police to stay at home due to the threat of male violence, and specifically the Yorkshire Ripper – despite the fact that most abuse and violence against women occurs in the home.
We feel, as our sisters felt then, that all women should feel safe to go where they want, when they want, wearing what they want, without the fear of sexual harassment or violence.
We know here tonight, as they knew then, that women going out is not the problem – it’s men attacking women that is the problem and that needs to be tackled using the full weight of the law.
We’ve made progress in recent years on improving how the legal and criminal system can protect women.
We’ve got Clare’s Law, giving women the right to check if their new partner has a history of violence.
And we’ve got Jane’s Law, which allows the CPS to challenge a judge if they decide to grant bail to someone charged with violence against their partner, if they think there’s a chance that the victim’s safety is at risk.
We also – thankfully - stopped the government from granting anonymity to those charged with rape.
Sadly we haven’t been able to stop the 30% plus cuts to refuge and rape services, but we will continue fighting against it, and now we have Vera Baird as our Police and Crime Commissioner, I am confident that these services will be a priority, at least in Northumbria.
But women’s lives are still marred by violence, and in too many cases victims are still getting the blame, either implicitly or explicitly, with attacks explained away by the fact that a woman was drinking or wearing a short skirt.
Just over the last few weeks, a 32 year old woman from Washington was injured after trying to escape a man who exposed himself to her then chased and violently pushed her to the ground near the Galleries, and a 25 year old woman was raped on her way home from Sunderland city centre.
330 sexual offences have been reported in my constituency of Washington and Sunderland West so far this year, and there have been 7 domestic-violence murders across Sunderland over the last decade.
Across the country, 1 million women are the victims of domestic abuse each year, around 300,000 are sexually assaulted, and 47,000 are raped. But prosecutions and convictions are falling and this is a disgrace.
We can only guess at the number of crimes that have gone unreported, as far too many still do, for a variety of reasons – whether that’s fear of further violence, fear of the shame of reporting it, worried he’ll get away with it, or just the fear of leaving a relationship.
So it’s no surprise that half of all women still feel unsafe walking though our communities alone at night.
Violence and abuse against women and girls in all its forms is unacceptable, and must be stamped out.
Even more important is that victims are seen as victims, rather than being accused of having brought it on themselves for whatever reason.
Effective enforcement is needed in the short term – making sure that victims are believed and supported when they come forward, that reports of crime are thoroughly investigated, and that courts hand out sentences which reflect the massive impact on a woman’s life that being a victim of domestic or sexual violence has.
In the long term, we need to educate people from a young age – and that’s girls as well as boys - that violence against women is not OK, and that’s about the messages young people receive at home as much as it is at school, or even in workplaces.
Above all, though, we also need to empower other women – not to be afraid to report abuse or assault, not to be afraid to walk out of an abusive relationship, and not to be afraid to come out at night.
We’ve reclaimed this night tonight – let’s work together to reclaim every night, every day, every community and every home for all women.