Image: Flickr / barnyz

An investigation into student safety in Leamington Spa

Since students have returned to Warwick for Spring Term of this academic year, there have been two incidents of rape reported in Leamington Spa. 

At the beginning of January, Warwickshire Police called for witnesses following a rape that occurred in Ford Fields in Leamington, only a couple of weeks before another rape occurred. One man was arrested following the first incident, and two men were arrested in association with the second. 

Leamington Spa’s crime rate was 31% higher than that of Warwickshire as a whole

These two incidents, which happened in the same month, have sparked a conversation about women’s and student safety in Leamington Spa. The town has a population of approximately 95,000, many of whom are Warwick students. 

While it is a popular location for students to live in, visit during the day, and go to for nights out, a poll conducted by The Boar News shows that many have had negative experiences in the town: just over 80% of respondents said they have previously felt unsafe there. 

According to CrimeRate, in 2022, Leamington Spa’s crime rate was 31% higher than that of Warwickshire as a whole. The most common crimes committed in the town are violent and sexual offences. 

In 2021, a news report by Warwickshire World asked about the experiences of women who live in Leamington Spa. One person said: “I now live somewhere else as I could never feel safe in Leamington.”  Another noted: “More needs to be done to protect everyone.”

This consensus that action was needed has since been acknowledged; in 2022, two new safety call points, operated by the Warwick District Council CCTV operation, were installed in Leamington as part of the Safer Streets campaign. If in danger, the button on the call point can be pressed and the Warwick District Council CCTV operation will answer – they will remain on the phone while they send the police to your location. These new call points work in the same way as the fourteen existing ‘emergency contact points’ in Leamington.

Last year, the Council launched a further initiative. On 13 November 2023, a Safe Space opened for “those feeling vulnerable or in need of support during a night out in Leamington Spa”. This hub is run by the Council’s Community Safety Team, and it is operated in partnership with numerous organisations including the University of Warwick.

The Safe Space is a place for anyone in need of assistance, but it particularly focuses on women and girls. This falls in line with the Council’s commitment to combat violence against women and girls (VAWG). 

Enaya Nihal, the Warwick Students’ Union (SU) Vice President for Welfare and Campaigns, worked with the Council on the launch of this Safe Space. When speaking to The Boar, she said that her position gives her the “ability to talk to so many different stakeholders”. She praised the Council for having “taken [the SU’s] suggestions on board”.

Over 70% were unaware of the Safe Space, and 90% did not know about the ‘emergency contact points’

These implementations are part of a broader effort by Warwick District Council to keep women safe. However, statistics taken from the poll conducted by The Boar News suggest that Warwick students are unaware of the measures in place and therefore make little use of them.  

32% said that they do not feel safe in Leamington Spa at night, 35% said they only feel safe in a group, and 25% said they only feel safe if this group includes at least one male.

Over 70% were unaware of the Safe Space, and 90% did not know about the ‘emergency contact points’. A very small percentage of respondents confidently knew what these are, where they are, and what they do. 

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick told The Boar: “We work in close partnership with our local councils and the police to keep our students safe and supported, along with raising awareness of the tools available to help people stay safe, both on and off campus.”

They added: “We will continue to raise awareness of [the Safe Space] as a place where everyone, especially those who might feel vulnerable, can feel safe, no matter what the time of day.”

Poll respondents discussed experiences surrounding “aggressive men”, being catcalled, and being “touched in clubs like Smack and Neon”.

A man followed me muttering what he wanted to do to me sexually under his breath 

Respondent to The Boar News survey

While a lot of responses indicated a general fear amongst Warwick students, one said that she has never felt “too threatened” as her experiences of being catcalled have been during the day. 80% of respondents said they felt safe in Leamington during the day. However, only 7% said with confidence that they feel safe at night.

The structure of one of the responses was particularly telling. A female student described an experience where a man drove slowly behind her before pulling over and getting out of his car. Before sharing her story, she wrote: “I decided to walk back on a Thursday night by myself after a party. It was around 2am, so I probably shouldn’t have.”

Some incidents were more extreme than others. One respondent spoke of “a group of men blocking” the entry to their home, and another wrote: “A man followed me muttering what he wanted to do to me sexually under his breath.” 

Safety is still a worry that sits at the forefront of many students’ minds, particularly for women

In 2021, following the disappearance of Sarah Everard, the site Everyone’s Invited gained traction as school and university students began to share their stories of sexual harassment. It aimed to highlight that rape culture is present everywhere and that it is a cultural and universal issue. 

There is a list on their website which names every school and university that the perpetrators that victims have reported attended. This list, which was last updated in 2022, includes the University of Warwick.

In 2021, the University of Warwick made national news after the group Protect Warwick Women held an 11-week-long sit-in in the Piazza to protest the University’s failure to respond to and prevent sexual misconduct. This ended after an agreement was reached with the group and the University.

We are now three years on from Sarah Everard’s case, the sit-in at Warwick, and the intense attention devoted towards misogyny in the press. Even then, safety is still a worry that sits at the forefront of many students’ minds, particularly for women.

In the poll, only 1/3 of men said that they have felt unsafe in Leamington Spa, while 85% of women and non-binary people said that they have felt unsafe. 

Unless the problem is facing people, they don’t particularly see it

Enaya Nihal, Vice President for Welfare and Campaigns

When asked for examples of when respondents have felt unsafe, many said that dimly lit or unlit areas make them feel daunted. Nihal recently worked to fix lamp posts on campus; as part of this, she took key individuals to the affected areas. She said: “Unless the problem is facing people, they don’t particularly see it.”

Nihal also spoke on her plans to implement further measures and raise awareness for support that already exists. One measure discussed was Strut Safe, which is a UK-wide phone line with calls answered by volunteers who will stay on the phone until callers arrive home. Strut Safe was only launched in 2021.

We do not tolerate any inappropriate behaviour from our community

University of Warwick spokesperson

Street safety is a concern across the UK, and while discussions about gender violence are growing more frequent, it seems as though the crimes themselves are rising too. Statistics from CrimeRate show that the number of sexual and violent offences in 2022 in Leamington Spa was greater than the number in 2021.

The results of our poll show that most students, in particular female students, have concerns about their safety when in Leamington Spa and that new implementations have not done enough to reassure them. 

In a further comment to The Boar, a spokesperson for the University said: “We do not tolerate any inappropriate behaviour from our community.” They added that sanctions will be faced by individuals who are found to have broken the University’s values and that these could include “expulsion or withdrawal from the university”.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.