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Exclusive: I have felt unsafe on the streets as a woman, says leading Met Police officer

Anthony France
·3-min read
Louisa Rolfe (PA)
Louisa Rolfe (PA)

A Scotland Yard chief today told how she has felt unsafe walking the streets alone as more action was pledged to help women in the wake of Sarah Everard’s killing.

Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe said recent debate around women’s safety in the capital made the force more determined to listen to survivors of rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Ms Everard, 33, vanished on her walk home from a friend’s flat in Clapham on March 3. A serving police officer has been charged with her murder.

Asked if she empathised with women, including the Duchess of Cambridge, who recalled concerns walking in London at night, Ms Rolfe told the Standard: “Yes, as a woman.

“All of us have held our keys in our hands and walked a little bit quicker when we’ve walked home in the dark. The last thing I’m ever going to do is minimise people’s fears by saying anything crass like these offences are very rare.

“No matter how rare, and the data suggests London is incredibly safe, the concerns are valid and real. The last thing we want women to do is have to change their behaviour because of fear.”

Police data suggest the majority of sexual offences happen from midday to 8pm, so it’s a myth they occur in dark streets, she added. Ms Rolfe said the Met had “taken stock” in recent weeks and asked itself: “Is there more we can do?”

She said action being taken included:

  • Around 650 officers working in neighbourhoods helping to make public spaces safer.

  • A partnership with retailers, pubs and clubs designed to create an “intolerance” of violence against women.

  • Since November the force’s Predatory Offenders Unit has hunted down and arrested 1,000 suspects.

  • In the last four months, the Met has taken out 100 stalking protection orders against the most serious offenders.

Stalking incidents reported to Scotland Yard soared more than 300 per cent between April 2020 and February this year, with perpetrators targeting victims online.

PA Wire
PA Wire

The Suzy Lamplugh Trust said victims felt like “sitting ducks” as they were targeted during lockdown by perpetrators with more time on their hands. Ms Rolfe, the national police lead for domestic abuse, said she was also concerned about significant delays in the justice system as a result of Covid.

Figures show there is a backlog of 57,000 crown court cases.

The Met has recruited 12 additional victim care officers for 5,000 witnesses in London who have been identified as either vulnerable or at risk of intimidation due to the delay.

Ms Rolfe said: “We’ve got real commitment from the CPS and court service that cases like domestic abuse and sexual offences are at the top of the list and being prioritised.”

Her detectives were “focused on pursuing prosecutions”, even though they recognised the trauma it put on victims.

But she added: “Too many defence strategies involve undermining the credibility of a victim, often trying to convince a jury that what would be seen as a manifestation of trauma presents as an unreliable victim. That really distresses us and is something we’ve worked incredibly hard to address.”

Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with Ms Everard’s kidnap and murder. A provisional date has been set for his trial at the Old Bailey for October 25.

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