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Students protesting sexual assault at Loyola University Chicago
Students protesting sexual assault at Loyola University Chicago
Original photo by Lauren Hammett
Culture > News

Don’t Keep Scrolling – Say Her Name.

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

I was sitting in a pub when a girlfriend informed me that 28-year-old Sabina Nessa had been murdered on her five minute walk around the corner, her plans simply to do the same. The level of shock and horror I felt in that moment was compounded by the fact that this piece of tragic news was evidently hardly deemed “news” at all.  It had not appeared in any of my news updates, my social media feeds, or my daily skimming of headlines, and my friend had only been made aware of it through Twitter. Although the murder was committed on Friday the 17th, it had taken nearly a full week for the story to begin to trickle into the consciousness of the public, the public which had, a mere six months previously, roiled with outrage over the murder of Sarah Everard under extremely similar circumstances.  

The circumstances were not exactly the same, however. Activists such as Women’s Equality Party leader Mandu Reid have been quick to attribute the minimal media coverage of Sabina’s death to the fact that she was a woman of color, whereas Sarah was white. There is certainly a precedent for stories of assault and murder where women of color are the victims to go under-covered, or more often than not ignored, and the British press has a well-established reputation for poorly handling issues of race and diversity.  However, while there is undeniably credence to these claims that the story’s low profile may be in part the result of racial prejudice, for me, the root of the issue lies still deeper.  

When Breonna Taylor and George Floyd were murdered in quick succession in the spring of 2020, the outpouring of grief, rage, and activism was monumental.  Statues were toppled, cities shuttered, buildings burned.  Social media was awash with posts ranging from extensive infographics designed to educate people about systemic racism, to beautiful works of art to honor the dead.  Everyone was aware.  Everyone was outraged.  Everyone spoke up.  And then the fervor died.  One year on, however, Aljazeera reported that black Americans were statistically still three times as likely as white Americans to be killed by police, and that approximately 140 more black lives had been lost at the hands of police in the year following Floyd’s death. But how many posts have you seen recently?  How many protests?  When was the last time you heard the issue discussed?

While the American Black Lives Matter movement and Britain’s crisis of violence against women may seem to be two unrelated issues, they are tied together by one crucial societal trend.  As a global community, we are suffering from an epidemic of Attention Deficit Disorder.  With so much of our daily activity sliced into digital bytes – a one minute TikTok, a 10 second Instagram story, an unending Facebook or Twitter scroll designed to maximize moment-to moment content absorption – we have lost the ability to engage with a given issue, no matter how important, for longer than it takes to learn the “Holy Moly Donut Shop” dance routine.  Article subheadings have been replaced by assurances that the piece is only a “two minute read,” as though publications are aware that they must coax reluctant readers to engage by promising not to take up too much of their time.  Headlines painstakingly engineered to be clickbait are nevertheless deemed to be sufficiently informative and swiped through without their contents ever being glanced at.  What we largely fail to realize, however, is that this unwillingness to engage with content for longer than a millisecond has a dangerously numbing effect, enabling us to shield ourselves from emotional investment in issues that make us feel uncomfortable, even unsafe, when that is exactly how we should and need to feel. 

We need to be aware that the UK has a particularly egregious history when it comes to cases of violence against women.  We need to be cognizant of the reality that, according to Femicide Census data, 1,425 women were killed by men between 2008 and 2018.  We need to be confronted with the still more galling fact that 92% of these murders were committed by men the women knew, and that half of these women were killed by a current partner or ex.  We need to talk about the 207 women who were killed in Great Britain in the past year alone.

Of course, it would be a misapprehension and a gross generalization to claim that we are completely callous and ignorant to the realities of violence against women.  Six months ago, Sarah Everard’s death drew some much needed attention to these statistics – rallies and vigils were organised, social media campaigns launched, news features released.  But then we metaphorically kept “scrolling.”  We lost interest.  Now another woman has been murdered, and while many are asking “how are we still here?,” the answer is tragically simple: we gave up the battle.  We didn’t even make it to the war.  

And while I don’t for a minute presume to have the solution to an issue as nuanced and serious as this, I do know that the response should not be issuing women deemed to be “vulnerable” with personal alarms.  I do know that the Mayor of London should not feel the need to state the obvious fact that “we have to give this issue the same seriousness we give other issues.”  I do know that if we want to see any real change happen, on this or any other issue, we need to be willing to do more than share an Instagram post or retweet an inspirational quote.  We need to be willing to take the time to read the whole damn story. 

Alexandra is a fourth year at the University of St Andrews in Scotland studying English and Modern History. She is also the founding president and editor-in-chief for the St Andrews Her Campus chapter, and can usually be found buried in a theatre rehearsing for the next musical, opera, or play. In her spare time, she loves writing creative fiction, traveling, and generally enjoying living in Scotland!