‘Men Simply Must Change’: Sadiq Khan Explains How He’ll Tackle Violence Against Women And Girls If Re-Elected Mayor

From making sexual harassment a crime to lobbying for better rape conviction rates, the London mayor details his new pledges to Grazia's Georgia Aspinall.

Sadiq Khan

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Today, London Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged to do more to tackle violence against women and girls as part of his re-election campaign. The sitting mayor is currently ahead of conservative party rival, Shaun Bailey, by 47% according to YouGov research. In an interview with Grazia today, he explained exactly how he plans to refresh London’s strategy for dealing with the endemic violence women face.

In a press release published this afternoon, Khan pledged to campaign for sexual harassment to be made a crime in public places, advocate for relationships education for primary pupils and sex education for secondary pupils as well as work with the Metropolitan Police and CPS to improve the horrifically low 1.7% conviction rate for rape.

The London mayor also promised to invest in ‘ground-breaking initiatives’ to reform the behaviour of perpetrators of domestic abuse and focus on the prevention of these crimes and refresh London’s strategy to tackle violence against women and girls and implementing a host of new measures.

‘Measures to empower women to be active at night will also be introduced,’ the press release read. ‘Providing safer routes for walking and cycling, working with local authorities on plans to improve lighting in public spaces as a means of ‘designing out’ crime and ensuring Londoners can get around the city safely and securely.’

Khan stated that ‘the problem is not just with the minority of men who are violent, the problem is also with those men who are sexist, continue to behave inappropriately around women, perpetuate a toxic form of masculinity or just stand by silently when women feel threatened or are being threatened. Men simply must change.’

But what does all of that mean? It's easy to say 'men must change', but how does Khan plan to encourage that? How will he actually work to improve low conviction rates? What are these ‘ground-breaking initiatives’ to prevent domestic abuse and what does ‘empower women to be active at night’ even mean? Well, Grazia’s Georgia Aspinall spoke to Sadiq Khan to find out.

GA: What do you plan to do to improve conviction rates for rape and assault?

SADIQ KHAN (SK): One of the things that the independent victim’s commissioner, Claire Waxman has done is undertake a comprehensive review of rape cases and she discovered that 6% of allegations reach trail but only 3% lead to a conviction. She made a number of recommendations directed towards the criminal justice system, which is outside of my control, so what I’m doing is lobbying for her recommendations but secondly doing what I can to assist. That means supporting more independent sexual violence advisors (ISVOs), they support victims through the ordeal and the process to improve the attrition rate.

Also, pushing for the victims of rape and other serious cases to have the option to pre-record their evidence before trial is held as that means they’re less likely to withdraw from cases and it enables them to access the support they need.

Also what they’re doing is making sure that the police and CPS don’t go on what is called a ‘fishing expedition’ by going through their ancient phone history to be used against them in a trial. So, we’ve got to make sure we address these things but at the same time because the government closed down loads of courts over the last 10 years and because of Covid, there’s a massive backlog in cases and often these cases aren’t reaching trial for 18 months to 2 years. That isn’t good enough because you have this massive cloud hanging over your head, so trying to speed the process up as well.

GA: Will you be working with charities like End Violence Against Women and the Centre for Women’s Justice to do all of this?

SK: Absolutely, over the last five years dealing with the issue of violence against women and girls a ton of that is supporting both financially and in other ways the brilliant work done by many groups supporting not just survivors and victims of violence but helping them with lobbying as well. It’s really important they get that because many of them have struggled difficulties with fundraising during the pandemic but also generally speaking because of austerity and limited resources.

So, where we can we assist and support the brilliant groups who are doing an excellent job of helping women and girls, particularly those who have intersectional issues so Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women and those in the LGBTQ+ community because we appreciate the complexities. It’s not simply being on the receiving end of violence because of your gender, it’s also maybe because of your ethnicity, religion or sexuality.

GA: Can you elaborate on how ‘men must change’?

SK: I’m quite clear from the conversations I’ve had and listening to the experiences of women and girls that actually too often women and girls are changing their behaviour because of the attitudes and behaviour of men and it starts at school. From girls wearing certain length schools to what footwear they were, to not doing sports after a certain age to adulthood with women choosing what routes to go home because they’re better lit even though they’re longer, having their keys in their hand to use as a weapon, wearing trainers rather than high heel shoes and so forth.

So, we’re doing lots of work to protect and support victims of violence, but we’ve got to be addressing the behaviour of boys and men and they simply must change. That means in schools, improving relationship education and sex education, make sure that boys respect girls and understand how some of their actions can be interpreted to when you’re a bloke, obviously not be involved in certain behaviour that makes women feel uncomfortable, obviously don’t use inappropriate language or be sexist or somebody that harasses or intimidates and of course don’t threaten or enact violence. But also, simple things like when you’re walking down the road at night time and a woman happens to be in front of you, be cognitive and understand that you could be making that woman feel uncomfortable and unsafe because you’re behind her.

Why not cross over the road? It’s no skin off your nose and it means that woman doesn’t feel less safe because you’re too close behind her making her feel really frightened that you’re about to attack her.

GA: What are the ‘ground-breaking initiatives’ you’re investing in to prevent domestic abuse?

SK: We’re doing a number of things in relation to domestic abuse, we’ve invested in groups that address the behaviours of perpetrators of domestic abuse. There’s a group called DRIVE in Croydon where if you’ve been convicted of domestic abuse they will address your actions to stop you being a reoffender and make sure you’re rehabilitated. Also, if you’re somebody who is exhibiting signs of potentially becoming an abuser involving domestic violence, preventing you from doing so, it’s really important at doing that.

But also, providing safe spaces for victims to report this, there are too many examples of women being victims dozens and dozens and dozens of times before they go to the police. So I’m at a pharmacy today where there’s a safe space where you can go and speak to a trained pharmacist and she will give you good advice and you can simply go to the website UK Say No More, type in your postcode and you’ll find out where the nearest pharmacy is.

We’ve got to make sure that women aren’t suffering in silence and they have the confidence and support to come forward.

GA: When you say ‘empower women to be active at night’, what does that mean to you?

SK: When I listen to women, women have imposed a curfew on themselves when it gets dark because they don’t feel safe going out. Or they only go down streets that are well-lit or places they can drive to and from that place. We’ve got to make sure that women feel safe when they’re out and about in our city, make sure that when the night tube reopens we continue to have lots of staff present.

We’re going to extend even more the numbers of reservations who sign up to the Women’s Night Safety Charter that includes nightclubs and venues where if you’re on the receiving end of harassment or inappropriate behaviour you can use the safe word ‘Angela’ to a member of staff who will then take action against the person. We’re going to make sure that we have more CCTV rolled out across our city, more police officers who are highly visible, but also I’m quite keen to change the law when it comes to sexual harassment in a public space.

I think it should be a criminal offence, in the last five years we’ve been successful supporting brilliant campaigners like Gina Martin around upskirting, Stella Creasy around making misogyny a hate crime, I think we also need to bring about legislative change by making sexual harassment in the public space a criminal offence as well.

GA: What would a ‘refresh of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’ look like?

SK: Well that was developed after a huge consultation exercise but I recognise it needs a refresh. What I’m keen to do is have a public health approach in relation to violence against women and girls and to make sure we address the pipeline of men whose attitudes and behaviour leads to violence against women and girls and it’s a public health approach dealing with the causes, so prevention, and dealing with the behaviour and then stopping the behaviour spreading.

Read More:

We're Not Panicking, We're Reacting. We're Not Hysterical, We're Angry.

Fury As Attorney General Scolds Labour MP Ellie Reeves For 'Emotive Language' When She Questions Him On Rape Conviction Rates

Sadiq Khan On London After Lockdown

Just so you know, whilst we may receive a commission or other compensation from the links on this website, we never allow this to influence product selections - read why you should trust us