Safer for women and girls who shut up when told

Filia reports:

On 29th January I attended an event organised by the local council and billed as one of a series, with the aim of ‘hearing your ideas’ to ‘create the positive change you would like to see’ in Brighton & Hove.

This particular evening, the focus was supposedly on making the city safer for Women and Girls, which is why I was there. I’m the co-founder and CEO of a Feminist charity called FiLiA. Many of our team members are survivors of male violence, and we work to amplify the voices of Women, particularly those less often heard or purposefully silenced. What I witnessed during the course of the two-hour workshop left me shocked; silencing, intimidation and a lack of willingness to engage on what is one of the key topics within the VAWG sector currently.

Let’s guess. Someone dared to talk about women? Not women and men who pretend to be women, but just women?

Brighton Sisters have highlighted that 100 Sussex police officers have been investigated for allegations of domestic abuse in the past five years and that the police force has failed to record almost 10% of sexual offences. Brighton & Hove’s own Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy (2023-2026) reveals that ‘during 2021/22, the police recorded 1,239 sexual offences in Brighton and Hove, of which 1,077 were serious sexual offences including 397 rape offences.’ 463 crimes and incidents of stalking were logged in the same period and 45% of respondents to a survey about VAWG in public spaces stated that they had experienced sexual harassment.

It is this context in which the Re-Imagine Brighton event took place.

First the ground rules were set, which included:

  • Treat everyone with respect, empathy and kindness
  • Allow individuals to share their stories at their own pace and comfort level

One survivor of male violence, Allison Hooper, welcomed the Re-Imagine Brighton initiative. She asked that the issue of Women self-excluding from mixed-sex services please be addressed. Allison raised the case of Sarah Summers who is suing Brighton’s Rape Crisis Centre Survivors’ Network for discrimination because it ‘refused to provide a women-only peer support group’. Allison had chosen to share her story and request via the printed page, which was distributed by a couple of attendees at the start of the workshop.

An enraged council employee and facilitator (who I believe has something to do with policy and communications) tore around the room with fury across her face, snatching the document from hands and tables. When she reached for mine, I had to place my hand firmly on top of the paper as she tugged at it. ‘No’ I said firmly, looking her in the eye, and she retreated to the remaining tables to complete the task as best she could. The task contradicted everything the workshop was supposed to be about and set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Sooooo that’s treating everyone with respect, empathy, and kindness is it? That’s allowing everyone to share her story?

At the end of the two hours, an attempt was made to redistribute Allison’s contribution which (if handled properly) could have provided an opportunity for an important and respectful discussion that clearly needs to take place in this city.

What followed was intimidation of the Woman doing the distributing. One individual simply stood and stared intently at her for a lengthy period; another followed her out of the room to tell her that she had no right to hand out such leaflets. The two security personnel were busy chatting with the aforementioned policy and communications facilitator at the back of the room and did nothing to intervene to de-escalate the situation.

An article in Brighton and Hove News claims ‘She and other council officers and councillors described them to other attendees as “offensive” and “transphobic”.’

So an event billed as about improving things for women turns out to be about coddling men who pretend to be women while abusing and silencing women who try to talk about…improving things for women.

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