Meet Natalie Shaw our strategic lead for violence against women and girls

Date published: 26 November 2021 13:00
Dated: 26 November 2021 13:00:14

Today's sad reality is that all women - yes, all women - will experience violence in some form during their lifetime.

For SYP's Natalie Shaw, it was only when she watched her own daughter reach adulthood, and start going out to pubs and clubs, that this stomach-churning fact really hit home.

"I was chatting to my friends and we realised that we had all been sexually assaulted within our lifetime," says Natalie, the force's new strategic lead for violence against women and girls.

"We had accepted it as part of growing up. I don't want that same experience for my daughter, or for my daughter's daughters. I accepted what happened to me - but I will not accept that for her."

Natalie, a former SYP Chief Superintendent, has returned to the force in a staff role to lead our response to this societal issue, and work with partners to make our South Yorkshire communities a safe place for women.

"There's a reason women go to the toilet in pairs," she says. "There's a reason why I tell my daughter to put her finger over bottle tops in clubs, why I tell her to stay on the phone during a taxi journey until she makes it home safely, why I tell her to walk the longer route home with the better lighting… I didn't have any of those conversations with my son when he was the same age."

Natalie, who is mum to a 23-year-old son and 21-year-old daughter, joined the police straight from school in 1989. In a high-flying career she found her niche within the world of PVP (Protecting Vulnerable People).

"I'd been in policing for 18 years as a PC and Sergeant, then I was asked to go into the Public Protection Unit in Doncaster, which basically dealt with things people didn't want to think about - child abuse, adult abuse, child neglect and so on," she recalls.

"I was completely wowed. The things they were dealing with, and the breadth of it - I couldn't get my head around how good that team was. I'd been in the police for 18 years but I felt I had finally found my place, found where I wanted to be.

"When you get a good outcome - a child is made safe or an offender is prosecuted - it really hits home to me."

Natalie retired in 2019 but jumped at the chance to return in this new role at a crucial time, when the nation is still reeling following the tragic murders of women including Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa.

"The conversation has started but it's terrible that it's taken such events," Natalie says.

"The outrage around these murders is the correct level of outrage - it can't be acceptable in our society that nine out of ten women who are murdered are murdered by men. And it's not just murder that's the issue here - it's the domestic violence, the rape, it's going out for a jog and being uncomfortable when you are wolf-whistled."

The first thing on Natalie's to-do list is to continue building up a true understanding of violence against women and girls in South Yorkshire. Alongside this, she is developing a plan to deliver and implement the national strategy to tackle the issue, covering such aspects as domestic abuse, stalking and harassment, forced marriage, rape and serious sexual offences, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation.

But Natalie warns: "If the solution was easy, we would have done it already.

"We have got to get the answers, work with partners, victims, and communities. Not all of this is a policing issue - it's a society issue. We in the police are a thread that runs through a lot of that and we need to make sure we play our part. We just need to understand it first."

One of the keys to unlock this understanding is engaging with all women in South Yorkshire, including those in the groups typically hardest to reach.

"Violence against woman and girls is felt in all sections of society," Natalie explains. "It could be a student in university, someone in the Gypsy or Traveller communities, a woman in a traditional Muslim family. Women in all of these situations could experience abuse and it will be a different experience for each of them."

To address this, Natalie will be working closely with partners to open up the lines of communication with these women.

She says: "In the most traumatic of circumstances we want to make coming to us the easiest thing they can do. And if you have that really positive first contact with someone who has empathy and understanding, you are more likely to engage."

Crucially, it's going to take all of us - women and men - to address this issue as a society.

"It's about education and building respect - at school, through parents and through the media. By the time it gets to the police, we as a society have already failed," warns Natalie.

"It's not 'all men' - but it is all women. I didn't even think about it until I had my daughter. It's not that every man is going to attack a woman - but every woman does have to think about which way she walks home. I want to play my part in beginning to change that - for my daughter and for all women in South Yorkshire."

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