Alarm, grief, and unshakable anger swept through the UK after the kidnapping and death of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who disappeared during her walk home in South London on March 3rd. The following week, her remains were discovered in Kent, 40 miles from where she was last seen. Not only did the community and perhaps the nation were filled with alarm and unease, but her case sparked a broader conversation, and one well worth having. Personal accounts of street harassment and assault from women everywhere brought attention to the ongoing issue that is male violence and women’s safety. And as if this was not alarming enough, an even more significant threat was posed as London Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzen was charged and convicted with her abduction and subsequent murder. Surely, if nowhere else, not just women, but all victims, all people in fear for their safety, can confide and seek refuge in law enforcement? Unfortunately not. Since then, protests have broken out in Britain, as women and countless others mourn her, oppose the violence that took her so wrongly, and question their own safety on the streets of London.
In this period of uncertainty and animosity, Sarah Everard’s death has brought up countless questions involving violence against women and the long-lasting fight for their safety. Questions we should be asking ourselves that cannot be ignored any further.
Why Sarah’s case?
We should, by no doubt, mourn Everard’s death and object to the horrific violence she suffered. However, we must consider why it was her murder, her case that has attracted incredible attention at the exclusion of so many others. As unfortunate as it is, women in the UK go missing at an alarming rate, and most are not nearly as widely reported. This is because it takes a case of incredible circumstance to favor the public, one that conforms to a famed, traditional concept of victim and killer. People are most willing to accept male violence scenarios that conform to narrow paradigms that meet the specific criteria. They are easily moved by the young, attractive woman who is innocent without convincement. Her killer is called a monster, he is sick, twisted, and his actions are inconceivable. He is seen as far from human as if he is not a member of the population.
Unfortunately, the public does not react similarly to cases involving “imperfect” victims, more sympathetic perpetrators, or situations that unfolded in a more complicated manner. The truth is, anyone can be a victim, and anyone can be a perpetrator. If Sarah had been a prostitute or killed by a star athlete or her spouse, would others have given her the same treatment and compassion? If she had dressed provocatively or walked dimly lit alleys, would others still be so understanding? Though these cases may be harder to grasp, they are most common. The public should demand news coverage for all injustices and encourage the media to expand their concern and focus on various situations.
Are we making progress in the fight against gender-based violence?
Cases of abduction, murder, and sexual violence are hardly a surprise. This can especially be seen in the numerous accounts of discrimination depicted by women who have spoken out after Sarah’s death. This seems to be a recurring theme. Like in any major tragedy, people grieve, protest, and shed light on the harassment they, too, have endured. We have seen this before, and unfortunately, this will happen again. We must ask ourselves, is this recurring cycle of abuse and resistance truly furthering our fight, or is it superficial and inefficient?
This prompts the question: what more can be done to protect women?
An undeniable quality of Sarah’s case was her precaution. She had followed every rule in the book. She had walked home at a reasonable hour, taking the long route through well-lit streets. She wore bright clothing and called her boyfriend to let him know of her location. Nevertheless, this could not save her. Women throughout the UK were unsettled. If the laws they had been told to abide by their entire life could not protect them, then what can? The case of Sarah’s death perfectly demonstrates how society’s directives for women cannot and will not help as long as men intend to harm them.
While messages of personal safety for women are well intended and should continue to be practiced, why is it so widely accepted that it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent an attack or some form of harassment? Perhaps this issue should be regarded at its root, with the instigator. More work must be done to educate men against chauvinistic attitudes and aggressions that may create hostile environments for women.