Sarah Everard’s murder shows dangers facing women

Woman holding sign that reads “end violence against women” Wikipedia Commons

Thousands killed each year

At 9:30 p.m. on March 3, 2021, 33-year-old London local Sarah Everard left a friend’s house for what – unbeknownst to her – would be her last walk home. Everard did not make it home that night, was reported missing shortly thereafter, and was reported dead a week later when her remains were found in some nearby woodlands.

While the exact cause of death has not yet been made public, there is a prime suspect: Wayne Couzens, a constable for the Metropolitan (Met) police department. In an article for the Guardian on March 12, 2021, police and crime correspondent Vikram Dodd reported that Couzens was already under investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct for two alleged accounts of indecent exposure at a London fast-food restaurant, both occurring on February 28, 2021. Couzens is currently being held on suspicions of indecent exposure, kidnapping, and murder.

While this occurrence – a woman reported missing only to be found murdered – is so devastatingly common that some hardly considered it newsworthy, this particular case has sparked a massive uprising of women on social media sharing the strategies they have to use to feel any semblance of safety in public spaces. From carrying keys between knuckles to only walking on well-lit streets; calling a friend so someone knows their whereabouts to strategically wearing shoes they can run in, every woman has a story of the extra measures they take to avoid winding up in a situation like Everard’s.

This particular case highlights the reality that, despite all possible forethought, these situations happen to women so often it’s considered a cultural norm. It has also led to the viral hashtag #toomanymen as a response to those who attempt to silence victims by insisting that not all men commit these atrocities, so not all men should be looked at as potential aggressors.

While that is true, not all men commit acts of violence, Everard’s case shows that it’s often impossible to tell aggressors from those who aren’t – in our current system, it takes a victim finding out the hard way. There have also been mixed responses from London locals after the Met police department announced they will be increasing their presence on the streets at night to make women feel safer walking; given that the prime suspect for Everard’s murder is a constable for the Met, the suspicion is understandable. The Met’s violent response to the peaceful vigil for Everard on March 13 served to increase that suspicion to certain distrust.

On March 11, the opposition Labour Party’s spokesperson on domestic violence, Jess Phillips, posted a video on her twitter account (@jessphillips) of her voicing the following message in the chamber of the House of Commons:

“In this place we count what we care about. We count the vaccines done, we count the number of people on benefits, we rule or oppose based on a count and we obsessively track that data. We love to count data on our own popularity. However, we don’t currently count dead women. No government study is done into the patterns every year of the data of victims of domestic abuse who are killed, die by suicide, or die suddenly. Dead women is something we’ve just all accepted as part of our daily lives; dead women is just one of those things. Killed women are not vanishingly rare, killed women are common.

Dead women do count, and thanks to the brilliant work of Karen Ingala Smith and the Counting Dead Women Project, and the academics and charities working on the femicide census, these women’s lives and the scale of male violence against women can be known. Since last year on this day, these are the women killed in the UK where a man has been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator in the case.”

Phillips went on to read a list of 118 women by name who were killed in the UK over the last year alone, which took over four minutes. Everard’s murder has become a catalyst for the building movement of women collectively putting their feet down against the constant insistence that if women were just more careful, they wouldn’t find themselves in these situations.

This twitter thread written by @Flip_Stewart compares the advice given for avoiding assault versus the responses people have after assaults occur. It establishes that really, regardless of an individual’s best efforts, anyone can find themselves in a situation just like Everard’s because those who are assaulted cannot cause the situation – only the aggressor can:

“Don’t walk home, but don’t get a taxi, and don’t use public transportation. Don’t refuse to go out with men because they deserve a chance, and don’t leave early but don’t go home alone after dark, and don’t carry protection because that’s offensive but why didn’t you defend yourself?

Don’t lead people on but don’t make them angry, and don’t walk quicker if someone is behind you because ‘not all men’ but why didn’t you run away? Take it as a compliment, but why did you say thank you if you didn’t mean it? Don’t wear this, or that, or that.

Don’t be hostile but don’t lead people on, and don’t draw attention to yourself but don’t be too shy as that’s seen as a challenge; he’s not that bad but why didn’t you trust your instincts? Why didn’t you report it, but where’s your proof? Are you sure, he’s such a good guy.

Don’t be so dramatic, but it can’t have been bad – you don’t seem upset. Don’t get drunk but don’t be so uptight; why are you so suspicious, but why didn’t you keep an eye on your drink? Why did you go by yourself, and why are women always hanging around each other and messing up men’s game?

To the people asking if I’m okay, the answer is a deep and abiding no. BUT I’m a very privileged version of not okay. I’m white and cis and have a job I can do from home.

It’s exhausting to have to do a risk assessment every time I choose to go outside, but for me it is a choice and for millions of women it is not.”

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