Colin Brazier: Masks have potentially made hundreds of thousands of women less safe

The Victim’s Commissioner said masks have produced a dramatic increase in stalking.

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Here’s a thought for the one third of Britons who say they may wear a face-covering indefinitely. Today the Victim’s Commissioner said masks have produced a dramatic increase in the incidence of stalking.

Dame Vera Baird QC, said the anonymity face-coverings confer, has created new opportunities for in-person stalking. This encompasses, she explained, all forms of stalking. Spying is up, loitering near a victim’s home is up, bombarding with unsolicited letters and gifts is up.

What’s down? Arrests and prosecutions for stalking. The police can no longer rely on CCTV and other evidence to identify stalkers, for whom the mask has become a disguise that no longer looks like a disguise – because so many other people are wearing them too.Chances are, if you slipped-on a face-covering today – you won’t have considered the serious downsides masks are creating for the victims of stalking.

We’re not talking about a handful of Britons here. Data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales shows about 700,000 women are stalked every year. Not online – in person. Sometimes it stops. Sometimes it can lead to serious assaults, even murder.

Face-masks are giving some stalkers the freedom to stalk with impunity.It reminds us, or at least it should remind us, that we need to start thinking how we can wean ourselves off masks. This is a pressing question. It’s not just communists and SAGE committee members like Professor Susan Michie who think we should wear masks forever.This month an Ipsos MORI poll for the Economist showed two thirds of Britons want face masks to stay until coronavirus is controlled worldwide. That might take years.

Forty per cent of Britons oppose face-masks altogether. But the same number want us to wear them forever. Forever. In perpetuity. Indefinitely. For good. It’s a nightmare, and not just for the victims of stalkers. For the old and deaf trying to lip-read, for the kids trying to improve their speech. And sometimes there’s no ducking the question.

In Scotland the kids will go back to school in a fortnight and Nicola Sturgeon is yet to say whether they’ll keep on wearing masks there or not.

There’s no rational reason to wear masks as an anti-covid measure once covid is gone. But the really uncomfortable truth is that some people have actually grown to like wearing them in and of themselves. Not just stalkers. Ordinary people who like being able to walk the streets, buy a pint of milk, get onto a bus – without having to engage with other people.

We are creating a lonely, misanthropic world that’s starting to feel dystopian. We pass by old friends without recognising them, we smile at a stranger as a show of goodwill, and then remember it can’t be seen. I read a series of interviews with people who want to wear masks indefinitely and it made for grim reading.

Well, the flipside to that is that you don’t see stalkers. Or known terrorists and killers who can now elude facial recognition technology. If you are one of the forty per cent of Britons who’ve grown so attached to a face-covering that you can’t imagine a time when you can do without it, please don’t think it’s a victimless choice.

As the Victim’s Commissioner makes clear today, masks have potentially made hundreds of thousands of women less safe.