THIS last week the Gazette has run several articles relating to female safety, something which has been in the national spotlight recently following the murder of Sarah Everard.

One story drew worrying comparisons, when Basingstoke mum Clare was stopped by plain-clothed police officers in South Ham.

What was most concerning was that the 51-year-old was unable to verify with Hampshire Constabulary whether the officers were genuine, and instead was made to feel like she was wasting their time when she questioned this.

This is despite the force’s chief constable Olivia Pinkney issuing a statement earlier this month saying: “We will do everything we can, including being part of the wider discussion taking place in society today so that women and girls feel safe on their own streets.”

She added: “I have reminded my officers and staff to provide extra reassurance to anyone with whom they interact – whether woman, girl or anyone who cares.”

What a shame that the staff member who spoke to Clare appeared to not have received this message.

However, what was also concerning and frustrating, was the response to this story from some of the public.

Every time the Gazette publishes an article relating to concerns about female safety, there is always a stubborn group of commenters who fail to grasp the point.

“If something had come from this or something happened then yeah fair enough,” said one man, adding: “All women have to have special treatment now because of one bad police unit?”

Another added: “Is it a situation to be really scared about, or pushing an agenda?”

Many commenters questioned Clare’s account of what happened, suggesting she had made it up to appear in the newspaper, despite the article making clear that the police had confirmed the incident took place.

This appalling attitude towards women is, unfortunately, part of the problem.

Unless people can accept that most women who speak out are telling the truth, and until men can put themselves in the shoes of women and begin to understand what we might be going through, we will continue to face an uphill battle to tackle the problems. There seems to be an extreme lack of empathy from some men, who fail to accept that issues relating to female safety are a problem.

“What about female violence towards men?” I keep seeing men ask on our Facebook page, whenever we post something about the problem of male violence.

It takes great willpower to resist the urge to respond. However, I fear that the debate will be one we can never win. It seems impossible to change the mind of those men who have these views and attitudes. They appear to lack empathy and are stubbornly closed to listening to the feelings and views of others.

They too must have women in their lives – sisters, mothers, daughters, friends – all of whom will be impacted by the issues of misogyny, whether they realise it or not.

Those who question the account of a woman speaking out; who undermine the issue of male violence towards women; or who fail to take responsibility for their own part in this are contributing to the problem.

Women are not asking for ‘special treatment’, we are asking to feel safe. We are asking for the problem of male violence towards women to be tackled seriously. We want the toxic masculinity that exists in some men to be addressed, so that women are no longer fearful.

It is not easy to speak up about this. But we need brave women like Clare who will. Contrary to the belief of some who suggest she did so for the ‘attention’, instead Clare had to fight the urge to stay silent. This would have certainly been the easier option rather than face the criticism, contempt, questioning, disbelief, and hatred aimed at her by some.

So, next time you come across an article about female safety, stop and think before commenting. If we were all a little more open to the views and experiences of others, and compassionate of each other’s problems, maybe we can work together to address them.