CW: Sexual assault, death
It Happens Here, an Oxford Student Union group tackling sexual violence, recently released a statement arguing that “street lighting in Oxford is currently very much imperfect, and that areas of Oxford remain poorly lit. Many women feel unsafe walking home after dark, especially in light of recent events, and this anxiety must always be taken seriously.”
Two of sixteen street lights on Merton Streets and one of four lights on Magpie Lane were found to be out of order. Oxfordshire County Council has said that a “contractor will be attending these and treating them as a priority fault”. Students at Oxford Brookes University have also campaigned for greater lighting in South Park. A petition has been handed to Oxford City Council by members of the university, following a failed 2019 petition. South Park, the site of sexual assault in 2014, instills a “sense of apprehension” in students when they cross the path through it. The petition’s website reports students have “a quickened pace to traverse the path as quickly as possible”.
Oxford City Council told petitioners that there is “already a fully-lit, safe route” near the park, and the County has said they will endeavor “to keep streets that are adopted highways well-lit and streetlights in good repair to contribute and make the streets of Oxford safer. We treated the recent issues in Merton Street and Magpie Lane as priority faults which have now been repaired, and our staff were in touch with the Oxford Student Union to update them about the repairs”.
The UK government has pledged to double safety measures to £45 million as part of an effort to protect women and girls in light of the killing of Sarah Everard. This increases greater funding for street lighting and CCTV. In 2018 a £40.8 million cash boost was granted to Oxfordshire County Council to upgrade over 50,000 LED street lights, deemed more energy-efficient. No mention of increasing street lighting can be found in the Oxfordshire Plan 2050, apart from reducing light pollution.
In response to the update from the Council, It Happens Here released a further statement: “After conversations with both the SU and the council, Oxford County Council who have responsibility for the lights has reassured us that the lights will be repaired within 7 working days and are being prioritised.”
“Lights in the area have recently been inspected by the council this week [and] they were happy that the rest of the lights were working along Merton Street and Oriel Square and that there is functional CCTV coverage across the street. We’d like to thank the County Council for their swift response on this issue.”
The Oxford University Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service can be reached by emailing [email protected] and offers free support to any student at the University who has been impacted by sexual harassment or violence.
OSARCC is also available as a free support service which is distinct from the University.
It Happens Here can serve as an unofficial and informal point of contact for students with any concerns about the issues discussed in this article.