On the 3rd of March 2021, Sarah Everard went missing while walking back from a friend’s house to her own. As of writing (11th March), a policeman by the name of Wayne Couzens has been charged with suspected murder and human remains suspected to be her have been found in Kent. Sarah’s disappearance is a tragedy and has unsettled many of the public over the last few days, but for women, her story is a stark reminder that we can do everything physically possible to keep ourselves safe and still be vulnerable.
At the start of this semester, myself and fellow HCAU Writer Chloe Weir Wrote an article detailing the many steps that we and many other women did to keep themselves safe from harassment and violence. As the news of Sarah’s potential murderer being arrested broke, I immediately thought of all the women we spoke to who drastically changed their behaviour to avoid harassment and violence and wondered how many felt unnerved and frightened by Sarah going missing.
Society directs the blame for harassment and violence towards women themselves and not the perpetrator: how short was her dress? Was she drinking? Was she alone? HCAU Social Secretary Niamh highlighted that this narrative was immediately present in the reporting of Sarah’s disappearance. This shouldn’t even be a conversation point. The conversation we should be having is how her suspected murderer thought he had the right to take her life. We should be discussing in detail the ways we can teach our boys and men to respect women and value their lives. More sickening is that Sarah’s potential murderer is a serving police officer, he is entrusted by the public to look after them, to keep them safe from the violent acts he has supposedly committed. Who can we go to if not the police?
The worst part is that this is not an unsurprising case for the women witnessing it on the news, nor is it singular. Sexual harassment, kidnap, street violence and murder are all things that happen on the regular for many women – Just a few days ago ‘UN Women UK’ reported that 97% of 18 – 25 year old women in the UK had been sexually harassed – and whether these instances end up on national news or just as whispers among friends the outcome is the same: shame and fear.
As our President, Meridyth mentions there is a general consensus among HCAU members that this will never change and that many of our members have become numb to the statistics because they are so high and so frequent Sarah’s story demonstrates the way that no matter what a woman does, a man can take her life away from her yet she as the victim will be blamed. This article is titled the way it is because Sarah did everything society told her a woman should do to keep her safe from men; she wore suitable clothing and shoes, took the lit path home, phoned her partner to let him know where she was and yet she still went missing and it is now likely she has been murdered by the hands of a man.
And let’s not forget the police telling ALL women to stay indoors in the area that she went missing because it is obviously the women’s fault that they dare to be outside past 6 pm. As women we are continually told to limit and reduce ourselves, make our bodies and our lives smaller to appease the lifestyles of men. Why aren’t we telling the men to stay indoors so that women can walk freely without fear of literal murder?
I am sick and tired of seeing my friends, university colleagues and other women recount their trauma online in excruciating (and potentially re-traumatising) detail every time a woman goes missing, is raped or is murdered by a man. It should not be a woman’s job to continually open wounds to remind men of the issues they repeatedly turn a blind eye too. We need to see men do the work, educate themselves on the statistics and the emotional fatigue and trauma women genuinely go through day in day out to keep themselves safe against all odds.
Not all men rape, not all men harass, not all men abuse. But how many don’t call out their mate when they take a drunk girl home? How many don’t say anything when they see a woman looking uncomfortable in a conversation with another man on the train? How many men whistle or shout at unsuspecting women as they walk along the street? How many men avoid calling out other men for calling a woman who rejected them a whore?
As our Vice President Ellen stated. ‘There’s not a single dad out there who doesn’t comment on what their daughter wears or worries about her going out at night and it is not because they are worried about women.’
We as a group of young women writing on our experiences in the aftermath of Sarah Everard’s tragic case being in the news do not have all the answers. But we know things need to change, and quickly. And having just ended up in tears after a conversation with someone over what ‘counts’ as sexual harassment, started by Sarah’s story being on the news, I am personally left heartbroken and wondering how long it will take for society, and men, to do the work to make it safe for me and my friends to simply exist without the fear of violent retaliation.
If you have been affected by anything in this article below are some helplines/ websites that can offer support.
@Abdnsurvivors on Instagram offers a safe space for victims of rape and sexual assault.
Rape Crisis Scotland: 08088 01 03 02 / https://www.rapecrisisscotland.org.uk/
Black women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape: https://womenagainstrape.net/
Victim Support Scotland: 0800 160 1985 / https://victimsupport.scot/
Scottish Women’s Aid: 0800 027 1234 / https://womensaid.scot/