“On my way home, I want to be safe. Not brave.” These were the words painted onto a giant white sign during the 2018 Women’s March in Spain. I had gotten lost in the city of Granada and had ended up the center of the giant protest as women stood together in solidarity, fighting for the right to be safe, not brave. Unfortunately, nearly four years later, women are still begging for this right.
Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by a London Metropolitan Police Officer. She was last seen walking home from work on March 3rd. Her case has left the UK reeling as they commence a national discussion regarding the culture of victim-blaming and sexual harassment that women face in the UK. Everard’s death has sparked outrage amongst UK women as many have begun taking to social media to share their own experiences with harassment. In one article, a woman recalls being a twelve-year-old girl “having to hide in the bushes” until the two men following her gave up. Another recounts being “sexually assaulted in a well-lit London street.”
Activists have pointed out the culture surrounding how we handle women’s safety. “A UN Women UK/YouGov poll conducted after Everard’s disappearance, published by The Guardian, found that 80% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed in public spaces”, says Insider. The conversation has centered largely around victim blaming and personal responsibility, with women pointing out the endless safety precautions women have to take in order to protect themselves against male violence. Many are left asking: When will we start holding the perpetrators accountable and stop blaming women?
This case is heartbreaking, but not unprecedented. Just last spring, Vanessa Guillén, a 20-year-old soldier was killed on April 22nd by another soldier, SPC Aaron Robinson, while at work. After her murder, her killer enlisted his girlfriend’s help chopping her body up and burying it near Leon River in Belton, Texas. As a result, her death left many servicewomen grieving the loss of their sister-in-arms and recounting their own experiences. In fact, similar to the Everard case, Guillén’s death started many conversations about the culture of sexual assault and male violence. Having been stationed at Fort Hood, Guillén’s experiences with sexual assault and harassment prior to her death were not unusual. In fact, Fort Hood, Texas, is notorious in the military community for its lack of safety and many abuse allegations. Her death sparked interest in the I Am Vanessa Guillén bill, which promised to “fundamentally reform reporting and investigation of sexual harassment in the military and transform prosecution of sexual harassment and assault by empowering an independent prosecutor, within each military service, to bring charges.”
The conversation regarding how we treat women’s safety and male violence is an ongoing, decades-long conversation. It is one that crosses political, social, national, ethnic and age-related barriers. Women across the board are steeped in a global culture of victim-blaming even in situations where they did everything right, such as with Sarah Everard, or in situations where they should have been safe, such as with Vanessa Guillén. Perpetrators of violent crime should be held accountable without the question of baseless investigative practices that inherently blame women for assaults they never asked for. It shouldn’t take the violent deaths of women for these conversations to become noticed and taken seriously. All women and girls deserve to be safe when walking home or going to work, not brave.