When I read the details of Sarah Everard’s murder, it made me feel sick to my stomach. As with any killing, it wasn’t a pleasant read, but there was something about Sarah’s experience that night that made my heart fill with dread – and I’m sure many women in the UK felt the same. She took a well-lit route home, she called her boyfriend to say she was on her way home – taking the very precautions we all take as women walking anywhere alone, especially at night.
And then just as we were coming to terms with the fact that Sarah had been murdered by an active Metropolitan Police Officer – Sabine Nessa’s image was plastered all over the TV and every newspaper across the country. Another young woman murdered at the hands of a man. Even more alarming is after a quick Google I found out that 79 women had been killed in acts of violence or in suspicious circumstances since Sarah’s death. A staggering number.
Women living in the UK right now have started having conversations about the unspoken precautions they take in every day life, that men simply don’t need to worry about. From holding keys between fingers as a potential weapon if needed, to carrying hairspray or perfume bottles in handbags to use as mace spray… there is a long list of things that women do as standard … just in case.
It shouldn’t have taken Sarah, Sabine’s or any of the others victims stories to spark the discussion of women’s safety and to ask the society we live in to help make us feel safe. But it has taken a number of losses in order for us to be taken seriously, and to be heard. It has also taken a lot of strength and courage to stand up and hold the people accountable, whose job it is to keep us safe.
The reaction to these deaths has quite frankly been offensive, insensitive and incredibly lacklustre. The advice being provided to women to keep safe from the police for example, has been embarrassingly poor.
“The Metropolitan Police has issued advice for women who fear a male police officer might not be genuine, suggesting they call 999 or “shout out to a passer-by, run into a house or wave a bus down” for help.”The Independent
And then come the calls of ‘it’s not all men!’ which is not only eye-rollingly tiresome but also completely missed the point. We know it’s not all men, but it’s often hard to tell the difference between those who are on your side and those who are a threat. How are women meant to know? To add to this, the uncovering of the misconduct by police officers in Sarah’s case as well as many others adds to the fear that women are feeling – if we’re not safe with the police then who are we safe with? What do we do?
How do we keep ourselves safe?
Often women are deemed ‘irrational’ or that they are ‘over reacting’ when it comes to responding to instances of sexual abuse, harassment or assault. Whilst to some, a man haranguing them on a train might be playful flirtation and something to be overlooked or brushed off, to another it may feel incredibly uncomfortable and alarming. It’s incredibly hard to know when in a situation like this whether you’re safe or you’re in danger. Particularly when you look at both Sarah and Sabine’s cases where they’ve been murdered by complete strangers whilst minding their own business. Walking home from a friends house or walking to meet someone at a nearby pub…
“But it’s not just harassment and assault that have been pushed into the spotlight like never before, it’s serious violence against women and girls, and, in the worst cases, murder. Conspicuous and horrific cases like the deaths of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, sisters who were repeatedly stabbed in a park in north-west London last year, and,Julia James, the PCSO killed while walking her dog in woods near her home this summer.”The Guardian
We know that being fearful of interaction with the police is not new for some minority groups. Black people and LGBTQ+ people in particular have long been speaking about how the organisation whose role it is to keep us safe are often the ones they suffer at the hands of. More worryingly are the increasing reports that are being uncovered by the day about police officers being involved in harassment, assault, abuse and more.
“We hear all-too frequent stories of police violence from Black people, LGBTQ+ people, and from minority groups. It’s clear that the system that’s meant to offer protection from hostility isn’t working for the people who need it most.”Marie Claire
So what is the answer, what can be done to make women and girls feel safer?
Campaigning groups and individuals are calling for a change in the way gender based crimes are dealt with, in particular, crimes against women and girls. Huge inconsistencies have been found across police forces and how they are dealing with the epidemic of violence against female victims in the UK, revealed by a recent examination commissioned by Priti Patel following Everard’s murder.
But does the root of the problem need to go back as far as the education system? Is enough being done to educate young boys and men about their interactions with women and toxic masculinity?
It’s difficult to pinpoint where the work needs to be done, but it’s clear that something has to change and it needs to happen fast. It’s a topic that many will want to brush under the carpet or put their head in the sand about but it needs to be addressed and we need to keep the conversation open ongoing, until we move forwards with positive results.
The confidence in the police and society as a whole – to keep us safe – is at an all-time low. The discussions surrounding the safety of women, and violence towards women from men, have been disappointing and lacklustre. It’s time to do better.