She Was Just Walking Home
The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard triggered a national furore and reignited the intense debate over the endemic violence against women, their fear and freedom.
Everard was kidnapped from the streets on March 3. Her body was found 7 days later in a wooded area of Ashford Town in Kent in a builder’s bag after her identity was verified through dental records. Wayne Couzens, a serving police officer, was charged with Everard’s kidnapping and murder on Friday, March 12. It is important to note that Couzens is also suspected of indecent exposure at a fast food restaurant in a separate incident three days prior to Everard’s abduction.
Unable to suppress the grief and anger of the injustice towards a sister of their own, women across the UK and around the globe inundated social media with their experiences of harassment, assault and ultimately fear of walking down their very own streets. It was clear that the outpouring of solidarity and rage towards Everard’s murder echoed a sentiment that women truly had had enough. The vigil held at Clapham Common mourning Everard ended with a violent clash and face off between the protesters and police where several women were arrested and handcuffed by the police. Images of male police officers manhandling and pinning women on the ground flooding the media churned outrage and drew widespread criticisms.
A survey from UN Women UK reports that among women aged 18–24, 97 percent said they had been sexually harassed while 80 percent of women of all ages said they had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Despite the survey being horrifying and shocking to most, most women find this fairly unsurprising. Every woman knows at least one woman in their lifetime who has been harassed. It is even more saddening that in this broken system, victim blaming prevails and women are often seen as overreacting. Imposing such guilt on them shifts the entire weight of responsibility off the perpetrators and it is no wonder women tend to not come forward because they know they will not be taken seriously and will continuously be shamed for their lived experiences.
In the aftermath of the vigil protests that ended with excessive brutality by the police force, the government responded with more stringent policing on the streets and plans to station plainclothes officers to protect women from harassment. Why is it that the first response towards violence against women is always “more police officers”? Are we truly expected to believe that we will be protected when Sarah Everard herself was murdered by one of their own? She is not the first victim of this rotten institution that we are told serves to protect. The events taken place at Clapham Common was a clear indication of this. Mourning women gathered to pay tribute to someone who they saw a piece of themselves in. They were protesting against the pervasive gender based violence but were met with the very same thing they were fighting for by the police.
Provoking a national outcry, the government was lambasted as a crime bill was paving its way through the steps of Parliament. This bill would essentially mean that the police would be granted more powers to control the protests which could potentially lead to more unrest and even increase the maximum penalty of defacing a memorial from three months to ten years. It is strikingly clear that the government holds a deeply sentimental value towards preserving statues of slave traders and completely disregards the traumatic lives of victims of sexual assault.
The chaos stirred during the vigil where policemen were pinning women on the ground evidently portrays the amount of capabilities they possess in their power. Do they really need to be afforded more powers? This draconian new police bill is also a threat to civil liberties and a one way street towards a more authoritarian government. Contrary to what you are told to believe, this bill does absolutely nothing to counter the violence against women and girls and street harassment . This is an attack on your freedom to protest and there should be a united, concerted effort to tackle this. David Lammy, a Labour lawmaker articulated his dissent in the best possible way: “By giving the police this discretion to use these powers some of the time, it takes away your freedom all the time”.
Sarah did everything in the book to keep herself safe. She wore bright clothing. She wore trainers. She phoned her boyfriend. She walked home through brightly lit streets. Yet, she did not manage to make it home that night. Is it not clear enough that women here are NOT the problem? Why should we be the ones who fear for our lives and do everything to make sure we do not get harassed on the streets? And the most devastating matter is why is it still not safe for women to walk home at night? We are not the ones who need to change. We should not have to be the ones having to amend our behaviour to keep ourselves safe from a danger we cannot predict. Women are not the problem. The normalised conversation should never be about how a woman can keep herself safe in the first place. It is how men can be stopped from being a danger.
It is incredibly sickening to see when men still bring up the #NotAllMen rhetoric into conversations regarding gender based violence. Our experiences and personal stories are constantly being invalidated and oftentimes centre the much needed conversations around them. Why do men suddenly become so defensive when all we are asking is for them to listen to our stories, respect and recognise our basic humanity? As men continue to refuse accountability, they fail to realise that if they do not actively call out the men around them, they are inherently complicit in exacerbating violence against women. It is enough men, that 97% of women have a horrible experience to tell to make this into a social problem. The bar for men is in hell. Stop trying to prove that you are the exception. Stop expecting women to congratulate you for doing the bare minimum; for merely sharing an infographic or two on your social media. You are in this discourse for the wrong reason if you still choose to stay silent in times when your own friends make casual rape jokes, catcall or even cause visible discomfort to any women. Start educating yourself and act on it. It is astounding that men still need to be told such basic manners. They have no idea how exhausting it is for women to worry about just staying alive and processing all our past traumas. Not all men but all women.
It is so crucial that we keep having conversations around the safety of women all the time even if it loses the media’s attention. This is a global reckoning reminding us of the exploitive patriarchal system and the plague of violence. It must no longer take another death of an innocent victim for there to be energised efforts and awareness. Sarah Everard will forever be a painful reminder that this could easily happen to any of us and our loved ones. We have to do our utmost to ensure that this movement does not just end as a moment. No longer should our freedom and safety be seen as dispensable. For Sarah Everard and for our fallen sisters, this is our time to reclaim our streets and our liberties.
[Written by: Cassandra Marcos]