Sarah Everard was walking home at 21:30 on the 3rd March when she was kidnapped and murdered by a serving police officer. Tonight, as I write this, is the evening of the vigil on Clapham common. Although the vigil was cancelled, thousands of people still turned up to honour her and things turned violent as police tried to break it up. It’s understandable that tensions would be high. We are supposed to be able to trust the police. We put our faith in that establishment to protect us, and when that fails, who are we supposed to turn to? Women are in grief. We are angry. Because what happened to Sarah could already have happened to any of us.
“On average, a woman is killed by a man every three days.” This is a statistic that has been floating around with a sort of abstract quality that prevents real meaning from being attributed to it. It’s as though it’s taken this event for people to truly understand the weight of it and what it truly means.
There have been various cynical attempts to discredit women’s claims about their experiences of sexual harassment, mostly along the lines of “not all men”. The analogy I find best to understand this is the fear of sharks: There are over 500 species of shark but only 10 species have ever been involved in a fatal unprovoked attack, and only three (the white, bull and tiger sharks) have reached double figures. Yet, if someone were to shout “shark” while swimming in the sea, I can pretty much guarantee everyone would get out of the water fast, without hesitation, and without checking the species of the shark first. Why? Because that fear is built in to us, however irrational it may be, by the very real examples of sharks actually attacking people. Sharks are seen as a dangerous predator to humans even though they only kill around five people per year. It isn’t seen as irrational to fear them. So why is it so irrational for women to fear all men, when men are women’s most dangerous predator?
When I was at school, I was followed by men in white vans as I walked home. Walking back from my piano lessons at 17:00 in winter could easily turn from a ten minute walk into a five minute sprint if I was sharing the path with a man in a hoodie. It’s easy to pass this off as irrational fear (and perhaps it was), but the point is that I was so scared, that it didn’t make a difference if this man was dangerous or not.
Since going to uni, I’ve only felt more aware of this fear. The Overheard Facebook page is sometimes updated with people reporting suspicious-looking men hanging around campus. In response to events in 2019, all the girls in my first year accommodation made a group chat so we could avoid ever walking alone at night. I think twice before I get into a taxi and, if I’m walking alone in the dark, I tuck my hair into my coat and I don’t listen to music. When I leave friends’ houses, the last things we say to each other aren’t “bye!” or “see you later!”, it’s “text me when you’re home” or “be careful.” It’s a matter of habit now. We walk in pairs, we clutch our keys in between our fingers, we make fake phone calls, we carry rape alarms and make sure we’re ready to run. Because even though it’s ‘not all men’, it has happened to all women.