The disappearance of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who made the decision to walk home alone, has brought to light an ugly truth. Why are we still not safe?
Following the discovery of human remains in Ashford Wood, which as of the 12th, have been identified as the body of Sarah Everard, Sadiq Khan has announced that ‘London’s streets are not safe for women or girls.’ He stated that ‘empathy was missing from the conversation,’ and that people should currently question male culture, ’where it is a sign of masculinity to intimidate women.’
Instead of challenging male behaviour, we rely on women to moderate theirs.
I live in a flat with three other girls and this past week has forced us into addressing our own issues and have frank, honest discussions about our own safety. We all call a friend on the way home, we all run in areas with no street lights, we all follow the route of ubers on our phones as they drive us, we all wear baggy clothes and cover our faces at night to draw less attention ourselves. Hyper-sensitivity is our normality. We are responsible for the prevention of our own assault.
The stories I have heard over this past week from my closest friends and family, only voiced in the wake of recent events, are truly shocking. Gap year travelling, an opportunity for unfettered freedom, instead ending in early flights home and the safety of childhood bedrooms; emergency calls when dates end with the expectation of sexual favours as they covered the drinks bill; unwanted hands on busy tubes; ‘slut-shaming,’ and verbal abuse for rejecting strangers advances. We all know what fear feels like.
Sit down with any girl you know and listen to their experiences; their replies will surprise you.
Why is belittling, abuse, negging, being talked down to the norm? It is too easy to pass blame. Describing girls and women as ‘psycho’ and ‘crazy’ has been used to undermine traumatic claims. Girls act out because they are not being listened to, because they are being deprived of legitimate emotions and denied of ways to defend themselves. It feels archaic that our experiences are so easily invalidated by hegemonic discourse hundreds of years old.
Equally, however, there should not be brackets or blaming, not every boy is capable of violence. But are they enabling it? By saying ‘not all men,’ you are effectively saying ‘I’m not the problem.’ It is natural to feel defensive and uncomfortable, since many are not aware of these wider patterns of violence and the problems with how we’ve been raised to see women. But, instead of this response, which is only distracting, it is ok to sit with your discomfort. While no one likes feeling blamed for others actions, there is no need to defend yourself or make the discussion about you. But if your first reaction to the mention of rape, sexism and harassment is to say it is only ‘some’ men you have decided that your feelings and reputation are more important than how women live their lives. Your desire to feel like a good person trumps your desire to hear what men do to women – and what men can do to stop it.
‘Not all men,’ adds nothing to the conversation. If anything, it illustrates the pervasiveness of the problem. It is a way of labelling women’s concerns as irrational, when in fact the vast majority of women have experienced abuse or harassment, so it is logical and reasonable to feel fearful.
Sarah Everard did nothing but think the society she lived in had progressed enough for her to make it safely home. Her only crime was to trust others.
If a woman asks you to walk her home, to meet you at the station, to stay on the phone, do not judge, negate or ridicule her. You do not know what led her to ask you; your journey is not hers. Ask your friends, girlfriends and sisters what they need from you to feel safe and supported. We shouldn’t have to praise you for doing this – but it is so rare, we probably will.
From a male perspective:
The tragic abduction and killing of Sarah Everard has certainly unfolded into a confusing and concerning narrative which has had led to important issues being raised surrounding sexually orientated crimes towards women and the overall safety of women.
I felt it necessary to highlight the similarities between the killing of Sarah Everard and the tragic killing of George Floyd which sparked the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign. Both scenarios could be seen as fairly isolated and absurd in their nature (both individuals were victimised by police officers). However, simultaneously sparking very necessary conversations surrounding the obvious societal flaws which exist in the United Kingdom.
Furthermore, the significant level of ignorance which could be seen throughout the ‘BLM’ campaign appears to fall perfectly in line with some of the backlash which I have observed in the past few weeks surrounding the debates concerning sexual assault amongst women. I am referring to those individuals who instigated the ‘all lives matter’ argument who were failing to grasp the concept that although all lives do obviously matter, the main purpose of the campaign was referring to the principle that in many areas of society, black lives mattered less. Therefore, an increased emphasis surrounding the significance of their lives was required in order to make society a more level playing field.
The same ideology can be portrayed with regards to those individuals who feel personally attacked by these conversations that have been occurring recently surrounding the predatory and inappropriate behaviour of certain males, prompting the hashtag #NOTALLMEN. Evidently, not all men have engaged in predatory behaviour towards women, however this refusal and avoidance to accept any sort of responsibility for the clear and obvious problems that women experience on a day to day basis in our society is counterproductive and inherently selfish. The shocking truths of the stories which have been portrayed on social media following girls’ account of sexual violence and degrading behaviour should be enough for those individuals who have sympathised with the ‘notallmen’ argument to adapt a viewpoint which underlines one of acceptance and understanding regarding these issues and seek to engage in the means of finding a solution.
Very much like the killing of George Floyd in the USA, I have been personally surprised that the heinous and despicable murder of a woman in her thirties from South London was required to raise awareness regarding an extremely problematic and difficult issue. These types of behaviours have been occurring for as long as I can remember and should have realistically been addressed a long time ago.
On a more personal level, I am forced to visualise the predatory and toxic behaviours of certain males that I have witnessed or heard about throughout my life and in many ways I find these patterns of behaviour extremely difficult to comprehend, as I fail to understand the psychology and methodology behind them. It would be an understatement to portray my concern surrounding this issue, touching more specifically upon the thought of my five-year-old sister having to grow up in a society where she will almost undoubtedly fall victim to some form of predatory and degrading behaviour.
I would be doing myself an injustice by not emphasising the fact that all men have a responsibility in ensuring the safety and protection of woman in our society. It is vital that we are able to differentiate between what some individuals see as the ‘demonisation’ of all men and inherently the underlying validity of the argument, which concerns a form of acceptance amongst men in promoting awareness and educating themselves on the disturbing truths of sexual violence against women.