Katy Bourne is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex

I know my male friends and colleagues respect their mothers, their sisters, partners, and female friends. But I don’t know how many of them would call out their friends if they shared a rape joke, an explicit photo, or wolf-whistled at women in the street. How many of them would do the right thing if it wasn’t their daughter, sister, or wife, on the receiving end?

We know that many inappropriate behaviours towards women can start at an early age in boys, from jokes to mobile phone images shared in the playground. Left unchallenged, this can normalise into the sort of locker-room culture and banter where women are de-personalised and compared like Top Trump cards. If we can teach boys about healthy and consensual relationships, we are making small but positive steps that help young men see girls as individuals and not objects.

That’s why some of the £1 million I secured from the third round of Safer Streets funding will support lessons like this for Year 8 boys in Sussex, empowering the men of tomorrow to be upstanders and not bystanders in the face of sexual harassment of women and girls.

Plan International’s 2018 survey of girls and young women revealed that 66 per cent of them had been harassed or experienced unwanted sexual attention in a public space. Girls said they had crossed the road, even changed the clothes they wore, or avoided empty trains or, worse still, simply stopped going out at night.

I find it disappointing, but not surprising, to still hear men, and sometimes women, blaming female victims for being out at night, for walking home alone, or wearing provocative clothing. This attitude is lazy at best and misogynistic at worst as it focusses on potential victims of sexual violence restricting their own choices because men can’t help but react to the sight of a lone woman at night.

Plan International and Our Streets Now have been calling for public sexual harassment to be made a crime – as it already is in several European Countries (France, Belgium, and Portugal) and in Peru and Chile for example. I totally agree and spoke out in support many months ago. Let’s stop saying “something must be done” and actually do something.

I know the UK Government and the Home Secretary are currently looking at legislative options after a tragic and tumultuous year in which the murder of young women has made us reconsider our safety in public and put a harsh spotlight on police vetting and WhatsApp groups.

The Law Commission is also currently looking at whether sex or gender should be a protected characteristic so that if a crime was motivated by hatred of women, for example, it would attract a tougher penalty, as already happens with other hate crimes.

I recently participated in a discussion on misogyny at the annual summit between the National Police Chiefs Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. A small handful of forces, including Sussex, are already attempting to record misogyny as a hate crime but, whether there is new misogyny legislation, or public sexual harassment legislation, it will undoubtedly mean changes to crime recording.

I really do understand that all police forces need to manage the increasing demand on their services from fraud to business crime to rapes and sexual assault. However, I know I’m not alone in thinking that if we could intervene earlier with perpetrators of low-level, non-contact sexual incidents (up-skirting and indecent exposure for example) we could stop their behaviour from escalating into rape and sexual assaults and reduce the downstream flow of potential offenders. After all, once the thrill of the first few indecent exposures wears off, what does the sexual predator do next?

A woman is murdered every three days in the UK and sadly this has not changed for a decade. Over 80 women have been killed – almost always by men – since Sarah Everard was brutally murdered in March this year. We cannot continue to respond to violence against women and girls by doing the same things in the same way, yet still expect a different outcome. This is surely our moment to be bold.

Small steps, however, can make a big difference. With a revived night-time economy in Sussex, I have directed hundreds of thousands of pounds to make it safer for women and girls to go out at night. We will be funding taxi marshals and more street pastors and signposting to safe places nearby.

I’m supporting specially-branded police patrols around late-night bars and clubs. After the alarming reports of spiking by injection and drink tampering, Sussex Police will be advising door and bar staff in around 100 venues on what to look out for and providing safety messages for female visitors as well as advice and help with transport hubs to ensure they can get home safely.

Despite all the excellent progress made by police to tackle domestic abuse, far too many women have to flee their homes and end up homeless or camped in refuges on the run from an abusive and violent partner. Some never make it that far. Victims I have met say “Why do I have to leave my home when he is the problem?”

I was delighted that Sussex Police reached out to victims of domestic abuse during the pandemic when many faced being locked in with their abusers. Using discreet contact methods for victims and promoting helplines on pharmacy bags, Sussex officers assisted dozens of people.

We need to intervene and stop abusers from re-offending too. I’ve backed some unique interventions with offenders in Sussex. Some of the Safer Streets funding my office was awarded is already supporting the Sussex Perpetrator Intervention Programme where domestic abuse offenders can self-refer to get help to address their behaviour.

With Sussex Police also at the forefront of using Stalking Protection Orders (SPOs), I have directed Safer Streets funding into a Compulsive and Obsessive Behaviour Intervention (COBI), for stalking perpetrators who are served a positive requirement element on their SPO – and the initial outcomes are really encouraging.

I know that in Chief Constable Shiner we have a leader who understands the harsh and often dangerous realities of day-to-day policing, but I also know she appreciates the need to regain and keep the public’s trust in policing. There is no room in Sussex Police for officers who abuse their authority for a sexual purpose, and it is reassuring to see that tiny rogue minority being called out by their honest peers and drummed out of the force in shame.

The overwhelming majority of Sussex Police officers, just like their colleagues up and down the country, have sworn an oath to the Queen to protect their communities and that’s exactly what they do around the clock. The message from them to women and girls is we are still here to protect you, so don’t let the perverts and predators go unpunished. Report it and we will respond.

Meanwhile, we can all make a start by encouraging the men we trust in our lives and their friends and colleagues to call out sexual harassment.

My ‘Do the Right Thing’ campaign will encourage all men to challenge their friends and colleagues who may cross the line. It’s being backed by Sussex celebrities, Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim), actor John Simm, cricketer Tymal Mills, and author Peter James, who feature on posters and digital displays in train stations and supermarkets. Later, the campaign includes beer mats in Wetherspoons and Harveys pubs across the county.

I know from a recent survey that women and girls across our county want to see the onus to tackle misogyny and sexual harassment placed on men; so be an upstander not a bystander and #Do The Right Thing.