We should all feel safe walking our streets, but for many people the fear of being attacked can be very real. In reality the likelihood of becoming a victim of a physical or sexual assault on the streets is incredibly low, but that does not limit the harm done on those occasions when such crimes do take place. Whilst we all have a role to play in changing attitudes about violence, particularly to women and girls, the police have a particularly important role in preventing attacks wherever possible.
Project Vigilant began in Oxford in 2019 and involves the police in carrying out covert operations to identify men displaying concerning and predatory behaviour. A uniformed team, including specially trained detectives are then able to intervene in order to prevent incidents from taking place. More than 50 men have been stopped as part of the operation and several arrests made, resulting in charges for sexual offences.
Overall the operation saw a 50% reduction in reported rapes in Oxford and a 30% reduction in other sexual assaults. Anecdotal reports from some victims also cited that media coverage of the operation made them feel more confident in coming forward to report their attack to the police.
Project Vigilant focussed very deliberately on the night time economy, either in the city centre or where people were walking home. In the last year most of the hospitality industry and therefore the night time economy has been shut down, but as the pubs and clubs reopen, so Project Vigilant will restart and in other areas across Thames Valley in order to ensure that we can all have confidence to walk the streets and those who choose to harass and attack other will know that they are being watched.
Adopting this operation on a wider basis is just part of a plan to ensure that Thames Valley becomes a safer place to live. Increased recruitment of police officers and investment in PCSOs will mean more visible neighbourhood policing, and a strategic approach to reducing serious violence through the Police & Crime Commissioner's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) will all make our streets safer.
Sadly in dealing with the issues of sexual and violent assaults on women we know that these are thankfully rare in public places but sadly far to common in their own homes. We must continue to prioritise the response to domestic abuse, supporting victims and improving the how the criminal justice system deals with domestic abuse cases in order to keep everyone safe. You can find out more about my plan to fight domestic abuse at www.matthewbarber.co.uk/domesticabuse.