Cross-party support in the Council for Bristol Zero Tolerance
Bristol Zero Tolerance are very happy to have met with the four main political groups on the Council, the Conservative Group, the Green Group, the Labour Group, and the Liberal Democrat Group, who have all pledged their support for the initiative. This is what they had to say about signing up to Bristol Zero Tolerance and addressing gender-based violence in Bristol.
Mark Weston, Conservative Group Leader
What have you and the Conservative Group been doing to address gender-based violence in Bristol?
“Firstly, my Group has shown its commitment to tackling this important issue by signing up to the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge. We recognise and acknowledge that solving this problem will require a multi-agency; multi-Party, multi-Council, multi-disciplinary approach which employs or deploys specific targeted strategies. On a practical level, I am proud of the recent role played by the Conservatives in promoting and achieving change (giving priority status) in the banding accorded to domestic abuse victims on the housing register. Members are also currently working with ACORN UK to improve the conditions and provision for tenants in the private rental sector.”
What would Bristol being a Zero Tolerance City mean and what would this look like?
“The vision, as set out in the ‘Bristol Zero Tolerance Scoping Document’, comprehensively encapsulates the sort of place our city could become through sustained and concerted effort. If the statistical estimates on the extent of this abuse are accurate, and these unacceptable/unlawful behaviours may be even more prevalent due to historical underreporting, then action must be taken to bring about change. This will be achieved through a range of initiatives, starting with raising awareness, early intervention, education, and, where applicable, criminal prosecutions.”
What motivated the Conservative Group to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge?
“The right of everyone to be treated with respect is a fundamental principle underpinning the belief systems of most mainstream political parties, religious doctrines and secular philosophies. Its roots can be traced in the basic precept or tenet of reciprocity, that one should treat others as one would expect or like others to treat oneself. Certain behaviours that were once lawful or tolerated (corporal punishment) now, rightly, have no place in our society and more enlightened times. The kind of violence, bullying and intimidation identified by the pledge essentially demeans us all and must not be tolerated.”
What does being part of the Bristol Zero Tolerance initiative mean to the Conservative Group and how do you see the Group being involved in the initiative?
“The importance of, and respect for, the individual is a core Conservative value. I hope that by publicly signing up to the pledge and committing my group to play its part in this initiative, we will be better able to uphold or defend this position in any agreed action plan or strategy. Depending upon the future composition of the Group (gender balance), I would expect us to be represented on most future bodies or forums. In this way, through participation, we can help shape policies and procedures aimed at eliminating all forms of gender-based violence, abuse, harassment and exploitation.”
Ani Stafford-Townsend, Green Group Leader and Daniella Radice, Assistant Mayor
What have you and the Green Group been doing to address gender-based violence in Bristol?
Daniella Radice: “I am pleased that this has been a key part of the work of the Bristol Women’s Commission, that I am a member of. As Greens we always try and look at the bigger picture when we look at policies and for us what is really important is promoting that awareness in schools, we think compulsory PHSE lessons are so important for children of all ages. But it is the whole attitude to women in society that needs to change. For example – women’s representation in politics and other leadership positions in the city is important too, it’s all interlinked. That is one of the reasons I have been working on the campaign to have 50% women Councillors in 2016.”
What would Bristol being a Zero Tolerance City mean to you?
Daniella Radice: “It’s a city where everyone would always question violence against women and girls but there would also be an openness about it as well. For example, in all workplaces. One of the most shocking things I found out as a member of the Safer Bristol partnership through a review of a domestic homicide where a woman’s work colleagues had known about a level of violence but hadn’t felt empowered to act and the woman was killed by her partner – there were barriers and no one was necessarily to blame, it was the culture… and it’s that change of mindset to say, well actually it is our role to step in.”
Ani Stafford-Townsend: “Also in my own experience, there is a big online community in Bristol and there is a lot of misogyny and obviously it is online but that doesn’t make it any less frightening or uncomfortable. So I’d like to see a Bristol where more people stand up to that when they see it online. I have personally been the subject of a lot of abuse and I know a lot of other women have and it’s something that does make women more nervous about putting themselves out there… and we should stand up to that and this is one of the things that makes me particularly pleased to have this initiative that tackles this and says no, actually it is not acceptable… From the extreme death and rape threats to the more gentle gas-lighting and particularly for women involved in politics there have been examples of women being set upon by online mobs, and it happens to women in a way that it doesn’t happen to men. So that’s something that needs to stop and people need to take responsibility for their political or activist groups and take action on their members if they overstep that mark. Because it does matter, it really matters, and it puts women off public life and even just voicing their opinion.”
What would a Zero Tolerance City look like?
Daniella Radice: “A Zero Tolerance City would be one where, women and girls would not be beaten up or abused at all, and it was openly recognised that there are also different kinds of abuse and some of it mental rather than physical. This would manifest itself by having a lot less reports of violence and abuse against women, that would be the aim. I know that reporting of sexual violence and harassment is going up and that is not actually a bad thing because it means people are confident to report it, so I don’t think we should be worried if we see trends of increased reporting because we want to know that it is being taken seriously by the Police when it is reported so there may be a number of years when we see reports going up, but when it stabilises we then need to work to make it go down. I do acknowledge the leadership of Sue Mounstevens [Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner – PCC] in this, she has done a lot to make sure the Police really take it seriously and put it on their highest priority. I think that is really important having a female head of police and PCC as well.”
What motivated the Green Group to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and what does being part of the initiative mean to the Green Group?
Daniella Radice: “It’s just something that chimes with all our values so we are really happy to sign it… We are really pleased that such a group as us can put our weight behind this because the more political leadership there is about saying Zero Tolerance City, the more that we can be out there saying it loud and clearly and leading so that organisations can follow. It’s not just about political organisations having that moral leadership – but we need businesses and other public sector organisations to all sign up and be working together. As you know the idea for this came from the universities because of the attitudes to women and girls on their campuses so we need to replicate that throughout the rest of the city as well and keep going with it.”
Are there are any particular things that the Green Group can do to support the initiative?
Daniella Radice: “Putting our voice towards it and working out if there are any policies that need to be brought forward in relation to how the Council works. What is really important is to continue supporting the Women’s Commission and the work it does and also to recognise because of all the horrendous austerity that comes in, to try and highlight where that is effecting women. And because one of the causes of domestic violence and abuse is family stress so if you are going to be under stress from benefits, work, unemployment, there are going to be issues around that… So campaigning across all gender issues in general is really important… It’s also important for us to campaign to figure out how we are going to keep the funding for the Zero Tolerance initiative for the next few years, I know it is limited funding at the moment but we have got to work with all our different strings that we can pull to see if we can get continued funding.”
Helen Holland, Labour Group Leader and Estella Tincknell, Labour Group Deputy Leader
What have you and the Labour Group been doing to address gender-based violence in Bristol?
Helen Holland: “We have been very explicitly supportive, for example in last year’s Council budget we stopped the cuts to domestic violence services, those are things that people do care very passionately about and have worked on… In our Neighbourhood Partnership, our area sadly was one of the highest for hate crime when we disaggregated the figures, and so we really took that seriously and we have made it one of our Neighbourhood Plan priorities… And if the Council and the political groups within the Council sign up to Bristol Zero Tolerance then we know that some of the other partners will see this and follow.”
Estella Tincknell: “I Chair the Public Safety Committee which licences taxi drivers and taxi operators and one of the things that I have actually made very clear to Officers is that I want to prioritise ensuring the safety of, usually women, and people travelling in cabs, and the drivers, and that we will not tolerate either racist-based hate crime or sexist crime of any kind, including the most low level casual sexism and racism. Because drivers need to feel safe when they are driving and passengers need to feel safe when they get into a cab, and also of course we all need to be aware of the implications of that sort of low level sexism. So I made it my business to put that higher up the agenda and we had a meeting with SARI and there has been training for taxi drivers and operators as well around these issues so I think levels of awareness are actually pretty high now. We need to make them higher, but we are very committed to ensuring that everyone feels that this city belongs to them.”
Helen Holland: “We have just had the debate in the last Council meeting about victims of domestic violence being prioritised for housing and there were some very powerful speeches in that debate, including by people who had suffered domestic violence themselves, and I think there is a much higher awareness now.”
Estella Tincknell: “It was quite shocking to me that that wasn’t the case in the first place actually. Obviously because Council housing is under extreme pressure at the moment that is a problem, due to lack of investment and building, this does place people who are suffering from domestic violence in a very difficult situation, so one of the things that we have to do is make our commitment real and ensure that we address that.”
What does a Zero Tolerance City mean to you?
Helen Holland: “That it would be right across every sector – public sector, education, environment – people who you might think their interests are about other things but actually we need to know that everybody has signed up to this and everybody is going to challenge it. That it gives you the support and if you do challenge it people will support you in challenging any unacceptable gender-based violence or hate crimes. And people need to be given the tools to do that because it’s not easy to challenge – for example if you are on the bus and hear something – as people may feel that it will make them vulnerable themselves – so a situation where you would know that the bus driver would support what you were doing and other people on the bus would do the same thing.”
Estella Tincknell: “We definitely need proper buy-in from other major employers and organisations in the city and not just lip-service, there needs to be some kind of substance to that – so it isn’t just about saying you are opposed to gender-based violence and not doing anything about it. It is also about making your employees aware so that they feel that they can intervene and everyone feels that they have an equal right to move about the city and go about their own business without being interfered with in any way… A non-Zero Tolerance City is perhaps one in which women feel that there are no-go areas for them, or that they are afraid to say something in case they too are attacked and that is completely wrong. Women are as entitled to move freely around the city as men and I think that is a really important message.”
What is your vision of Bristol as a Zero Tolerance City?
Helen Holland: “That people would feel that it is safe – in the past with the Reclaim the Night activities, it came out of women being told to stay at home because it was dangerous – actually you shouldn’t have to curtail your behaviour because of the unacceptable behaviour of other people. And you would sometimes need those physical messages – perhaps posters on the bus saying what will not be tolerated would be a supportive thing to do and on advertising hoardings and so on. Some very clear overt messages but also that knowledge that there would always hopefully be someone around who would challenge it if they saw it.”
Estella Tincknell: “A city in which everybody takes responsibility for their own behaviour and don’t blame another person for what they do – for me that is so important. And… it is important that women and girls of all ages feel that wherever you are, however you are dressed, whatever you are doing, then you are safe. You are entitled to go about your business without having someone comment on you, attack you or worse.”
Helen Holland: “Bristol likes to think of itself as being a very forward-looking city, a very open city, but sometimes that is not equally spread. Some of the initiatives don’t seem to mean much to some parts of the city but this one has got to, so actually put your money where your mouth is – if we say we are a very open and friendly city we have got to have some actions behind that as well to make it mean something.”
What motivated you to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and what does being part of the initiative mean to the Labour Group?
Helen Holland: “The really good thing about the signing today is that when I sent an e-mail round to the Group the response was very positive, there was absolutely nobody who had any doubt whatsoever that we should do it and people were making very strong and supportive comments, so it is something that people really care about… For me it is about the Council showing the way by signing this but then getting other partners to sign up to the same thing.”
Estella Tincknell: “I think it is also important to acknowledge that gender-based violence is not something that is class specific. Often it is assumed that it is primarily in working class communities but it isn’t – the recent Archers storyline is a very good example of that – so just being aware that it is actually going throughout the whole of society. But also to address it, it isn’t just about awareness, it is about identifying appropriate policies that prevent it from happening and address it when it does happen. And the Labour party are completely committed to that because we do recognise that structures change things, that’s how you make change – you have legislation and implement change and support this with appropriate finance as well, you don’t just wish it away… Our manifesto for the Labour Mayoral candidate and the Labour Group in Bristol, has an explicit commitment to making Bristol safe for girls and women, that includes ensuring that women experiencing domestic violence are actually properly supported, and that is a pledge in our manifesto, so we are very clear about our commitment to that.”
Gary Hopkins, Liberal Democrat Group Leader
What have you and the Liberal Democrat Group been doing to address gender-based violence in Bristol?
“We were the Administration prior to the Mayor, and one of the posts that I had was dealing with community safety and that covered a wide area and included obviously this work, and I was Chairing Safer Bristol part of the time and we were able to actually affect quite a lot of positive changes. I think initially the Police response a number of years ago was that it was a private matter and ‘nothing to do with us’, it’s very, very different now… We recognised domestic violence as a root cause of a lot of the problems that were coming up. Not just with the women who were directly abused, but also further on down the line with families and with children in later generations… So the area that I’m actually most concerned to see tackled is perpetrators because it’s necessary to actually remove the victim from the scene and keep them safe, although sometimes obviously they are followed wherever they go to, but unless you actually tackle the perpetrator effectively not only will they potentially pursue that victim, but if that victim gets away completely there is probably going to be another one. So that is very, very important, and what we did find was that survivors who had actually gone through a bad period but had found the strength and support were able to be most effective in advising other victims and dealing with perpetrators… There were an awful lot of different approaches and techniques, some of the best approaches actually came from community-based programmes and I hope that those have not all slipped away with the changes that we have had over the last few years… They weren’t large scale but what we had been looking to do was learn from what they were doing and expand the programmes. My concern is that we might just now be looking at the short-term sticking plaster stuff rather than dealing with the wider picture.”
What does a Zero Tolerance City mean to you and what would this look like?
“Well basically people treating each other with respect and people being able to lead a dignified life – if you want to put it simply. So they should not suffer because of unfair treatment by others, whether that be emotional or whether it be physical… It would be very varied, that’s the first thing, because one of the things that we find is that people who are abusers tend to have a very narrow view of the ways things actually should be and want to impose their view on others. So certainly a varied city with a lot of variety and an understanding from people of what other cultures and individual needs actually are.”
What motivated you to sign the Bristol Zero Tolerance pledge and what does being part of the initiative mean to the Liberal Democrat Group?
“Well it fits with what we have done as a party. It’s what we led on for a number of years in Bristol and we hope that we get back to a position where we were making a lot of progress in this area… We believe in people not being oppressed and our basic raison detra is individual freedom and people not suffering. I think we use the word slavery in the wider sense in terms of people having freedom, you can’t possibly have freedom if you are being abused.”