Sarah Everard’s tragic abduction and murder has sparked a national, and even international conversation surrounding women’s safety and sexual assault.
As details of the case came out, a London Metropolitan police officer was arrested under suspicion of murder. This caused shockwaves around the UK, fear amongst women (now encouraged to not leave their homes alone at night) and finally, an immense emotional response across Britain. In these past few days, many have come forwards with their experiences with sexual harassment. Women are sharing their unspoken rule book: avoiding dark places, wearing bright, ‘modest’ clothing, sticking to main roads, not staying out too late. These are all things Sarah Everard, a 33 year old woman, did yet these precautions —which are practically instinctual habits for most women— weren’t enough to protect her from male violence.
It is has been said countless times that it should not be the responsibility of women to take preventative measures to protect themselves. Rather, the discussion should be centred around how men can stop being perpetrators of sexual harassment and violence. Nevertheless, the reactionary response of #notallmen began to trend on Twitter.
It goes without saying that obviously not all men are perpetrators of sexual assault and violence. But this goes a little further than that. As Instagram user @alexlight_ldn said, ‘men need to start listening up when we talk about our experiences, not just shrug it off because, you know, #notallmen. Men need to be louder than women about this, in order to enact real change’.
However it is, practically, all women who are subjected to this. A study by UN Women UK showed that 97% of women aged 18-24 had experienced sexual harassment. 96% of those surveyed said they didn’t go on to report these incidents. Victim blaming plays a big part in this. The immediate response to so many cases always questions what the woman might’ve done, or worn, or said to provoke or justify an attack.
Again this begs the question, why is it that women must take so many precautions to protect themselves, when the only way of actually preventing sexual harassment is men not sexually harassing women?
On the 13th March, Wayne Couzens, the Metropolitan police officer was charged for Sarah’s kidnap and murder. Later on, hundreds of people gathered at a vigil in memory of her. However, it was cut short as police deemed it ‘unlawful’, and they began to use force to disperse the crowd, which became more of a feminist protest under the leadership of the group ‘Sisters Uncut’.
It seems like a cruel joke to have seen the peaceful vigil (against male violence, in memory of a woman murdered by a police officer) become violent at the hands of the police. Yet it is something that occurs time and time again, looking back at the BLM protests of last summer. In both cases, the police conformed to the very grievances protestors were there to criticise them for.
This all comes at a time when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being debated by MPs in Parliament. Part of this bill aims to expand policing powers and limit ‘non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect’. However the abuse of power seen at the Clapham vigil serves as a reminder for how dangerous this bill would be. Evidently, it is not the police, who are already in a position of power, who need protection now. Instead it may be entirely the opposite.