Changing the conversation: Sarah Everard’s story and violence against women

By Kate McCormick

News outlets everywhere reported the disappearance of 33-year-old South Londoner Sarah Everard, who went missing on March 3, 2021, as well as the subsequent confirmation of her body’s identification just nine days later. London Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens has been charged with kidnap and murder concerning this case.

Everard’s story serves as a reminder to women that they are always at risk. The public attention this story has received has reopened the discussion about women’s safety in public and private spaces.

According to UK news outlet The Sun, following Everard’s disappearance, police warned women to stay inside, be careful when going out alone and be cautious if living by themselves — as if these ideas haven’t already been permanently fixated into the minds of women everywhere.

The kidnapping and murder of Everard may have taken place across the pond, but the confirmation that women are not safe is felt universally. On the surface, this advice to not go out alone at night, or be extra vigilant if you must, may seem like genuine caring or concern, but, even if that’s the case, this rhetoric reestablishes that women are to blame for what happens to them.

Everand did all of the things she was ‘supposed’ to — she wore bright clothing and comfortable shoes. She took a route home that was equipped with good lighting. She called her boyfriend.

Everand was still murdered — and by a police officer, nonetheless.

The responsibility should not fall on women to stay safe. The responsibility should fall on men to not attack women and society to recenter the way it speaks passively about women and female-presenting experiences.

I, as I’m sure many of the women reading this, know what it is like to feel unsafe for simply existing, not even mentioning the heightened risk of danger for women of color and trans women. I remember what it felt like to be catcalled and harassed walking home as a sophomore in high school, and I remember hearing similar accounts from friends who have also felt unsafe simply moving throughout their everyday lives, and for what? The space they take up in the world?

‘Don’t go anywhere alone. Carry mace or put your keys between your fingers in case you need to protect yourself. Don’t get too drunk. You better not put those earbuds in while you’re walking alone — what if you can’t hear someone coming up behind you? Lock your car door as soon as you get in, but not before you’ve checked the backseat. Are you sure you want to take that taxi, or wear that short skirt, or go to that party, or on that date?’

All of these parameters, pieces of advice and judgements fall on women, and, due largely in part to this rhetoric and the casual misogyny that pervades our society, women are often blamed for what happens to them.

All of this is not to say that men are immune to assault or danger, but there is a discrepancy in the way we as a collective society converse about and discuss treatment and solution for the assault of women versus men.

A March 2021 survey of 1,000 UK women conducted by YouGov revealed that 97% of women ranging between ages 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment, and of this percentage, 80% ocurred publicly. In the U.S., a January 2018 survey commissioned by Stop Street Harassment (SSH) found that 81% of women and 43% of men across the nation have experienced some degree of sexual harassment or assault.

As the details solidify, the disparity between the experiences of men and women become more apparant; 34% of men have experienced verbal sexual harassment, compared to an alarming 77% of women, and while 17% of men confirm being groped or touched unwelcomedly, that number increases three times over with 51% of women.

According to the Bereau of Justice Statistic, men experience higher rates of victimization for violent crimes excluding sexual assault and rape, so why aren’t men asked to stay home or exhibit hypervigilence out of safety concerns? The issue of violence is just as much a men’s issue as a women’s issue, and there needs to be a change in the rhetoric used when discussing these instances of violence to reflect that.

Everard’s story is another reminder, on top of the many before her, that no matter what a woman does, she alone cannot ensure her own safety — there needs to be a drastic change in the way we hold men accountable and take the blame off of victims in an environment that does nothing to protect them and everything to accuse them.

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