A seaside town is trialling a pilot scheme to offer safe spaces for women and girls who feel threatened while walking home.
The Pineapple Project has been set up in Weymouth, Dorset, after young women expressed a need for places of safety in their community.
The idea is that the shops, entertainment venues or beauty establishments taking part will provide a safe haven for young women and girls in the town, for a few minutes, an hour or a little longer.
Those taking part will display distinctive pineapple stickers in their windows, letting women and girls know they are happy to help. If the trial is a success, it could be rolled out to other towns in Dorset.
Dorset Council says the pilot project is focusing on young women as statistically they are more likely to be at risk, for example of being approached, exploited or sexually assaulted (verbally or physically).
However, the businesses will be provided with contacts for safeguarding issues if specialist help is needed.
The public reaction
The scheme is being led by Dorset Council, with Dorset Police, Weymouth College and Targeted Sexual Health Service (part of Sexual Health Dorset) all contributing to the new safety initiative.
"Dorset continues to be one of the safest counties in the country, but we also recognise that there may be occasions when people feel vulnerable and in need of help or support," David Parr, from Dorset Police, says of the project.
"We are pleased to be working with Dorset Council and supporting The Pineapple Project to create safe spaces for young women to access."
Since sharing details of the new initiative on social media people have been sharing their thoughts about the need to provide safe spaces for women and girls.
"Sounds like an excellent initiative," one woman tweeted.
"Well done Dorset Council," another agreed.
But others expressed the point of view that "nowhere should be unsafe for women and girls".
"Isn’t it awful we should have to do this?" another user tweeted.
Local businesses on the look-out
Commenting on the new scheme, councillor Andrew Parry, portfolio holder for children, education, skills and early help at Dorset Council, said: “All girls and young women should feel safe in their communities and be able to seek the right support at the right time. Sadly, some experience and fear different forms of intrusion, and sometimes violence, in public spaces.
“This can affect their whole life and they no longer feel safe to move around their local area, or even participate in school, work or their social life.
“It takes more than the professionals to safeguard young women and girls, and local businesses are the eyes and ears of our communities.”
Sue Dafter, head of student services at Weymouth College, said: “We are very keen to get behind the Pineapple Project at the college.
"Having listened to our students and through disclosures made during our February ‘Sexual Violence Awareness Week’ in conjunction with STARS Dorset, we are concerned about the amount of violence towards girls and young women in the area which goes unreported.
"It takes a village to raise a child, as the saying goes, and this is a perfect way to involve the wider business community in helping provide the support needed.”
Watch: Teen on TikTok shares personal safety tips that everyone should follow
Why women still need safe spaces
As many of the social media posts on the subject point out, it is disappointing that in 2022 we still need safe spaces for women. But, it's impossible to ignore the statistics.
End Violence Against Women say a massive 64% of all women in the UK and 85% of women aged 16-24 have experienced sexual harassment in public and 35% of women have experienced "unwanted sexual touching".
Verbal harassment is also a regular occurrence for 38% of 14-21 year-olds, while 15% said they were touched or groped at least once a month.
Further figures, from the Creating Safer Spaces report by Marshalls, reveal that 84% of women feel more unsafe when out and about alone compared with 44% of men.
This increased fear has a knock-on effect on behaviour, particularly in the dark, with some women compelled to take certain measures to ensure they feel safer in public.
Almost two-thirds (64%) of women say they will walk a longer route that is busier and/or better lit, while 58% cross the street to avoid others, a third (32%) say they will only wear one earphone and 11% carry a personal alarm.
Advocates for these protected spaces say the need for them is a question of safety, arguing that while there is still sexual violence against women, there will still be a need for safe spaces to help protect them.
But in presenting this as the solution, are we shifting the focus away from tackling increasing sexual assault rates and worrying attitudes among male perpetrators?
Seeking a broader solution
Perhaps, therefore, safe spaces need to form part of a wider solution to the issue.
"It's fantastic to see those in charge of public spaces taking more responsibility for creating safe spaces," Farah Benis, founder of street harassment campaign Catcalls of London and security firm FFA Group tells Yahoo UK.
"I am 100% in support of community-driven initiatives and believe that they are the key to creating safer public spaces."
Expert input needed
But campaigner Benis believes the success of schemes such as those of the Pineapple Project depend on a couple of key points.
"Over the last couple of years I have seen so many new women's safety-focused things happening – from apps to training, and the majority are very well-intentioned but have not considered the associated risks and have not consulted professionals across different industries," she asserts.
"I wish there could be more communication across the board so that knowledge, experience, and data can be shared."
The vetting of initiatives such as this one is also vital and ensuring adequate training is given to all employees of businesses that opt into the scheme.
Benis sites another recent campaign, Ask for Angela, which was designed to help those feeling vulnerable on a night out in London.
The scheme was introduced last year by the Metropolitan Police, mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Safer Sounds (part of the Safer Business Network) to venues across London.
The idea is that when a person asks for “Angela”, trained staff will know they feel uncomfortable or threatened and will then look to support and assist them.
Staff may reunite the person with a friend, call them a taxi, or alert venue security or the police.
While the measure was praised by safety advocates, Benis says there have been some teething problems with training.
"We've seen with Ask for Angela – it's one thing for businesses to display posters, but the reality is often staff have no idea about the scheme, have not been trained adequately, and the consequence of that is added trauma to someone seeking help and also potentially jeopardising their safety further," she argues.
Earlier this year, details of a similar initiative were revealed with certain businesses in south west London offering ‘safe spaces’ for women and girls who feel threatened or unsafe.
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, shadow cabinet minister for mental health and MP for Tooting shared her hopes that the voluntary initiative could help to prevent the immediate risks that face women and girls, with businesses that opt into the scheme providing a safe environment for women, where they can charge their phone or contact help if they feel unsafe.
“Women and girls deserve to feel safe on our streets," Dr Allin-Khan told SWLondoner.
“The government are failing to enforce existing laws, dismissing Labour’s calls for new legislation to protect women and girls, and are without a strategy to tackle the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.
“Now is the time to put in long overdue protections for women and girls. I’m calling on local businesses to sign up and be a safe space where women and girls know they can pop in when they feel unsafe walking home, charge their phone, or even make a call to the police.”
Whilst the Pineapple Project and other safe space initiatives may not be a stand-alone solution to the problem, they could form part of a wider, multi-pronged plan to tackle the issue of safety which in turn could help contribute to making women feel more secure in their own community. And that can only be a good thing.
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