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Ground-breaking commission outlines actions to make Plymouth safer for women and girls

Tackling the way that men and boys treat women and girls in Plymouth is at the heart of a ground-breaking report published today (27 May) by the UK’s first Violence Against Women and Girls Commission.

The multi-agency Commission established in January 2022 by the City Council following the tragic murder of Bobbi-Anne McLeod, gathered a wide range of evidence and expertise before making 15 key recommendations – supported by clear actions – to ensure that Plymouth drives a culture change that challenges male violence against women and girls, better supports women and girls who have been subjected to male violence and creates safe places and spaces for women and girls.

Amongst its recommendations, which have been published on the City Council’s website the Commission says Plymouth should:

  • Commit to being a city that does not tolerate sexist or misogynistic language and behaviour full stop.
  • Support men and boys to be ‘active bystanders’ who feel confident to challenge inappropriate behaviour and language
  • Create a culture where it is safe to have open and honest conversations about sexism, misogyny and male violence and its impact on women and girls
  • Ensure that women and girls are empowered to speak out against harassment and supported to report violence and abuse
  • Ensure that women and girls who have been subjected to male violence get the support they need at the right time and place and only need to tell their story once.

The Commission was made up of experts (including specialists in domestic abuse, health improvement and child protection) and key city partners (including Devon and Cornwall Police, Plymouth University, Plymouth City Council, Westcountry Schools Trust, Plymouth Live, Plymouth Women in Business and Plymouth CityBus).

In addition, former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England, Nazir Afzal OBE, worked alongside the Commission as an independent advisor, bringing expertise from his 24-year career prosecuting the most high-profile cases in the country and advising on many others.

To ensure that the recommendations from the Commission result in real change, over the past five months members considered a vast amount of evidence from over 1,300 local people. Members also spent over 40 hours listening to feedback from 33 individuals or organisations, and reading dozens of written submissions from those who work with victims.

They reviewed issues such as the role of men and boys, children and young people, places, spaces and culture, as well as innovation and best practice.

Now, the final report is published and the work begins to ensure that the recommendations are actioned across the city.

Councillor Rebecca Smith, Chair of the Violence Against Women and Girls Commission, said:“Whilst Plymouth has seen a number of horrific and high-profile crimes against women over the past twelve months – violence against women and girls happens on a daily basis. Be it in an email or text, verbally or sadly physically. We can’t stand by and do nothing. We must tackle male violence against women and girls at the root.

“I have been overwhelmed by the amount of evidence that was put forward to the Commission. We heard from women who have been subject to harassment or abuse at work, on social media, in the street or at home.

“Our recommendations are not a quick fix. But they mark the start of a journey that says ‘enough is enough’.

“I would like to thank all those people who took the time to work with us during the past few months. But, now the hard work really begins.

“Whilst I believe the recommendations are strong and robust – until they are implemented they are just words.

“I call on everyone in Plymouth to step up and to do their part. Join us to not only make Plymouth safer for women and girls, but also a place that feels safer.”

Nazir Afzal OBE, added: “The City of Plymouth has had more than its fair share of violence against women and girls this past year and the terrible crimes are a reflection of the journey that all of us are on to eliminate these harms.

“The Commission is a bold and brave development, and its findings and recommendations are in many respects ground-breaking, but they are all evidence-based responses to the significant challenges that we face. At its heart is the understanding that we can’t just repeat the same mistakes and that we must address the causes and not just the consequences.

“Plymouth knows eliminating violence is everybody’s business and this report is the beginning of that journey.”

Councillor Sally Haydon, the Labour representative who sat on the Commission, said: “Given the overwhelming strength of the public feeling, it is imperative that people on the Commission, including myself, do all we can to ensure this report and recommendations will make a real difference to the safety of women and girls in our city.

“This is the time to show the women and girls of Plymouth that our leaders are listening and that things can – and they must – change.”

The recommendations focus on:

  • Driving the culture change needed to challenge male violence against women and girls  
  • Better supporting women and girls who have been subjected to male violence and abuse  
  • Creating safe places and spaces  
  • Ensuring the building blocks are in place to enable real change to happen.  

To ensure that the recommendations are actioned, a Plymouth Violence Against Women and Girls strategic lead will be appointed for Plymouth and the Commission will establish a framework for monitoring and evaluating progress towards implementing the recommendations and assessing their impact. Some members of the Commission will remain actively involved in providing advice and guidance on this issue, acting as ambassadors and critical friends. 

The Plymouth Violence against Women and Girls Commission aims to share learning and findings from this process with other organisations locally, regionally and nationally.  

More information about Violence Against Women and Girls – or to see the final report and recommendations.