A pertinent message on a t-shirt of a woman being escorted by three male police officers at the vigil planned for Sarah Everard is circulating on social media. What was, and should have remained, a peaceful and respectful event turned into an unnecessary display of police violence with videos showing officers pushing through crowds and a woman being handcuffed and held to the floor.
It comes as no surprise. That may be a shocking statement to some, but like the statistic 97% of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, many already know that this is a frightening but very tangible truth. Following this, people took to social media to share their experiences of sexual harassment that women deal with on a day-to-day basis.
Don’t have your headphones on too loudly. Stick to main roads. Don’t go out in the dark.
Text me when you get home.
These things have become normal and that points to the endemic nature of public sexual harassment and the preventative measures that women have to take to stay safe. This week, I ran through an underpass while on the phone to my dad – I was walking back from the library, and it was the only way I knew to get home. A few days ago, a car beeped at me as a man shouted something out of the window. It may not be all men, but it’s nearly all women who have stories like these, events that have become a part of our daily lives so much so that they almost seem trivial. This should not be normal.
The disappearance of Sarah Everard as she walked home and who was later found dead in a woodland outside the capital has shone a light on the sexual harassment, abuse, and violence that women continue to face. London Police are facing backlash for the way that they handled the vigil on Clapham Common. The event, organised by Reclaim These Streets, was deemed ‘unlawful’ by the police under Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place in the UK. The fact that a police officer has been charged with the abduction and death of Sarah Everard added to the injustice and to the sadness and anguish that many feel. Hundreds of mourners went to the vigil to pay their respects not only to Sarah, but to all those killed by gendered and state violence. Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police Chief, has insisted that she will not resign, despite the violent breaking up of Saturday’s event. Boris Johnson says that he’s deeply concerned by what happened. But is this enough?
Every International Woman’s Day, MP Jess Phillips reads out the names of women and girls killed in the UK at the hands of male violence. Speaking in the House of Commons this year, Phillips stated: ‘We count the vaccines done, the number of people on benefits, we rule or oppose based on a count and we obsessively track that data. We love to count data of our own popularity. However, we don’t currently count dead women.’ This strikes a chord with the vigil being cancelled by police over coronavirus concerns. While the pandemic is important, other social issues should not be swept under the carpet.
Videos of crowds chanting ‘Our streets’ is a poignant message that echoes that Sarah was just walking home, and that it should have been safe for her to do so. Similar gatherings occurred across the country. In Nottingham, there was a vigil in front of the Brian Clough statue, with a banner reading ‘Her name was Sarah. We remember her.’
Since the events this weekend, Priti Patel’s protest bill is being rushed through Parliament. It will give police powers to take a ‘more proactive approach’ to ‘highly disruptive protests.’ Jess Phillips highlights that the bill will do nothing about street harassment and violence against women and that it is full of ‘divisive nonsense.’
We have to take action.
Our Streets Now campaign has a Nottingham group. Follow their Instagram to find useful resources, such as the Our Streets Now petition to make public sexual harassment a specified criminal offence.
The UN’s open letter to Parliament can be found here