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‘Men need to step up, they need to be active allies’: Fife MP Wendy Chamberlain reflects on her own experience in light of tragic Sarah Everard case

Wendy Chamberlain.
Wendy Chamberlain.

A Fife MP who previously worked as a police officer dealing with sexual offences has called on men to “step up” in light of concerns raised surrounding the Sarah Everard case.

Thousands of people have taken to social media in recent days to discuss women’s safety after the 33-year-old went missing more than a week ago and is now the subject of a tragic murder investigation.

Ms Everard vanished while walking home from a friend’s flat in south London on March 3, with her suspected kidnap and murder prompting anger over the safety of women on the UK’s streets.

A Metropolitan Police officer in his 40s has been arrested in connection with a murder investigation.

It has sparked a UK-wide debate about the prevalence of victim blaming and a focus on how women should protect themselves from potential attacks.

Now, North East Fife Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain has called for action to address domestic abuse and misogyny while looking back on her own experiences as a police officer.

She said attitudes are shifting away from victim blaming, recalling previous campaigns encouraging women to behave a certain way to prevent attacks.

“I can’t help but reflect that, of course, it’s not all men, but, particularly where men in public positions of trust are guilty of committing acts of violence against women, it could be any man and women feel compelled to act accordingly,” she said.

“Early in the 2000s, I recall my force ran a bus advert in Edinburgh advising women to think about what they drank and who they were with when socialising – basically to plan to prevent sexual assault.

“And in my early 20s as I was then, I probably thought that was reasonable – it shows how conditioned we all are.”

Family of Sarah Everard pay tribute to her as ‘shining example to us all’

Ms Chamberlain is now calling on the UK Government to pass the Domestic Abuse Bill, which has been in the offing for four years and will legislate to make misogyny a hate crime.

“Make sure that those occupying positions of trust are people we can really trust,” she said.

“Men need to step up. They need to be active allies.

“At the root of much of our debate around single sex spaces is the fear of sexual violence perpetrated by men. Changing men’s behaviour changes that debate.”

In her role as a police officer, Ms Chamberlain said she was responsible for taking victims’ statements, securing evidence, and attending any subsequent medical examination – the impact of which cannot be underestimated, she said.

“Time is a factor,” she added.

“The length of time for a sexual offences officer to travel to wherever the assault has taken place for example.

“To take a statement….hugely distressing.

“Travel to the place where the medical exam will take place, the exam itself.

“Not being able to wash or change in that time in order to preserve evidence.

“It’s an incredibly invasive process and no matter how empathetic the investigating officer is, they’re not your friend; they’re not your family member.

“The real tragedy is that, a lot of the time, all that comes to absolutely nothing.

“And of course, that’s just in the cases of those women who feel able to contact the police and disclose in the first place.”

Ms Chamberlain said Ms Everard’s case has resonated with females, including her own daughter.

“I retweeted a tweet expressing that sentiment last night and my 16-year-old daughter liked it,” she said.

“She never likes my tweets.

“The fact that she chose to like that one makes me incredibly sad.”

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