Sarah Everard did everything “right”. She wore bright clothes and walked on well-lit main roads. Her death has sparked conversations about misogyny around the globe.
Sarah Everard was kidnapped sometime during her 50 minute walk back to her Brixton home in south London. The next day on March 4th, her boyfriend reported to police that the 33 year old was missing.
CCTV footage captured Sarah walking down well-lit residential streets despite being quicker to take back streets, wearing bright clothes and talking to her partner for 15 minutes. All measures done in order to stay safe. On March 10th Sarah’s remains were found 120km south-east of London.
Serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested a day before the discovery. The 48-year-old married father has been charged with the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard. Set to face trial in October, with a plea hearing in July, Mr Couzens was also accused of indecent exposure three days prior to Sarah’s abduction.
His role as a police officer has become the target of rage from community members. Mr Couzens has only reinstated what many women already feared: that no one can be trusted. Sarah’s death has reignited an intense debate about misogyny and women’s safety worldwide. Sarah did everything “right” on the night of her abduction. It is time to turn the conversation away from victim blaming.
In response to Sarah’s death, the UK government has promised new actions that would improve women’s safety. Including more CCTV cameras, better street lighting and plainclothes police officers in bars and clubs to watch for attacks on female patrons. Yet this has caused some controversy among protesters. Installing these safety measures would give new powers to police and Mr Couzens’ position as an officer has resulted in more distrust towards the institution.
Provocative feminist organisation, Sisters Uncut began protesting on the streets of London. The group was founded in 2014 after the government austerity measures slashed funding for women’s shelters. The protests were intended to highlight violence against women and emphasise the police forces’ failings to protect women. During the movement, those involved have vandalised memorials. Meanwhile the public outcry has unintentionally disrupted Sarah’s family as they grieve for the loss of their daughter and sister.
The discussion of Sarah Everard’s death and its significant link to male police officers stirred controversy in the government. During her parliamentary speech, Green Party peer, Baroness Jenny Jones, suggested a nationwide curfew for all men.
“In the week that Sarah Everard was abducted and, we suppose, killed — because — remains have been found in a woodland in Kent — I argue that, at the next opportunity for any bill that is appropriate, I might put in an amendment to create a curfew for men on the streets after 6 pm.”
Although there was a slim-to-none chance of the curfew being implemented, the male population was furious. Reactions were interesting considering the countless times women have been told what to do with their bodies by governing institutions.
Sarah’s tragic death spurred women across the globe to speak up about their own experience with harassment and assault on social media. Combined with the controversy surrounding the curfew, the hashtag #NotAllMen began trending on Twitter. Women were given the platform to speak about their experiences, yet the hashtag ignored it.
However, men are right. Not every male is a threat or perpetrator of sexual assault. But women spend a majority of their life looking over their shoulders, feeling suspicious of a man when he stands too close or angles his phone towards you. When the feeling of threat arises, there is no time to distinguish between good and bad.
The hashtag #NotAllMen undermines and disregards the feelings of people that have been a victim of male violence. A man shouldn’t get praise for not having raped or attacked a woman.
Violence Against Women
Sarah Everard’s death also sparked the 97 conversation all over social media. UN Women UK found that 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. A further 96 per cent have not reported those situations because of the belief that it wouldn’t change anything.
This mentality comes as no surprise. According to Home Office statistics, in 2018 only 3.8 per cent of sexual offences resulted in a charge or summons. British newspaper, The Independent, discovered that between 2012 and 2018, 568 London police officers were accused of sexual assault. However only 43 faced disciplinary proceedings.
United Kingdom and many other countries struggle to prosecute attackers, with victim blaming being at the heart of the problem. In Peru, a man was found not guilty of rape due to the victims red underwear. Meanwhile a 27-year-old man was found not guilty of raping a 17-year-old girl in Ireland. His defence lawyer showed the jury the victims underwear, stating
“You have to look at the way she was dressed. She was wearing a thong with a lace front.”
The night of Sarah Everard’s abduction, the 33-year-old was wearing bright, warm clothing. She did not seduce anyone, nor did her clothes look “enticing”. Sarah’s case only highlights how stopping violence against women is not in the hands of the victim.
How Can We Change?
The way forward is not through curfews or telling women ‘how not to get raped.’ But rather education on consent and violence towards women to improve awareness. Therefore people can identify their immoral tendencies towards women and recognise when consent is not given, putting a halt to the misogyny that has been carried through generations.
Kate Manne, a professor of philosophy at Cornell University and author of how sexism shapes society believes in the power of education. Stating it could be,
“a real shot at prevention and shaping some of the prevalent attitudes that greatly hurt girls and women as well as nonbinary people in our society.”
Like Sarah Everard, the legal system has failed on multiple occasions to protect women. Social movements are forcing people and institutions to reflect on past actions. However an important step forward to recognise your own discriminatory behaviour, whether you are a male or female, and learning how to do better.
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