By Anna Jang and Ryan Kim
Edited by Yechan Jeong
On March 3rd, 2021, 33 year old Sarah Everard was walking from a friend’s house in Clapham, England to her residence. Sarah was last seen on a busy South London street shortly after 9:30 p.m. En route to her home, Sarah was kidnapped and murdered. It was not until the following day that her boyfriend reported her as missing. It would take nearly a week, on March 10th, for her body to be found in Hoads Woods, an area near Ashford, Kent.
Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens was taken into custody on March 9th under suspicions of his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Everard. News of the case soon made its way onto the international stage, and was met with immediate public outcry, and for good reason.
The case of Sarah Everard is one of the countless examples of violence against women, and her situation was the one that finally exposed the fundamental issues that lay within society. On Sarah’s way home, she called a friend to say that she was on her way home, walked on well-lit roads, and wore bright, memorable clothing. However, these efforts were not enough to “guarantee her safety,” proving that it is not women who need to protect themselves better, but men who need to control themselves and be held accountable. According to NBC, “women do not do the ‘wrong’ things and lead themselves into the fray; abusers do the wrong things by harming women, regardless of what time those women leave their friend’s houses, what they wear, what roads they chose or who they call on the way.” The belief that women are simply objects has been so ingrained into many men’s minds that it does not matter how well a woman protects herself; As long as men with this misogynistic mentality walk the same streets as women, nothing will be enough to prevent possible assault.
Everard’s murder also brought into light a double-standard that is far too prevalent in today’s world. Women are expected to change the way they act, the way they dress, and even the way they talk, in order to adapt to harmful behaviors that are primarily perpetrated by men. For instance, women are told not to wear revealing clothing, because it is far too distracting for other males. There is obviously a significant flaw in society if women are required to avoid certain situations and choices and go out of their way to reduce the risk of becoming victim to assault and murder. Why should only women be required to change their behavior to lower their personal risk? If men were told to dress or behave a certain way, there would most certainly be public outrage. Yet, the same men who would get upset at the slightest possibility of this do not realize that this is the current reality for most, if not all, women in the modern world. Women should not have to put themselves aside to tolerate unacceptable behavior, nor should the actions of men be glossed over due to their gender. Everard’s case helps highlight the inherent problem with this double standard, and the precautions she took are a prime example of what most women go through daily.
In addition, another harmful societal convention is victim-blaming, a practice in which the victim of crime, assault, etc. is held at fault for what happened to them. This “victim-blaming culture” detracts attention from male actions, and shifts the blame to the affected. Instead of punishing the men who are responsible, women are belittled, and their cases are even dismissed, often discouraging victims from ever reporting them in the first place. Around 80% of all women in the UK have been sexually harassed at some point, yet only 15% of these women ever report their incidents. There are so many cases, yet nothing seems to change, except for the rising number of victims. Because of widespread victim-blaming, assaulted women feel as though they cannot turn to the police because their efforts almost never come to fruition. “Women are expected to shoulder the responsibility for preventing violence, and then the blame when violence is done to them. Then [women are] gaslit for speaking up about that violence,” says Mary Morgan, an expert in body politics and an adviser to the Reclaim These Streets movement. Even getting involved with the police in itself is very messy. Take a look at Sarah. She was murdered by police officer Wayne Couzens. If the people we rely on to protect and serve the community cannot save women like Everard, who can?
Even though this misogyny and violence cannot be solved overnight, there are many steps men can take to help women feel safer. The first step is for men to realize the influence of their actions and recognize that women do not have the same comfort as men do. Another important step is to speak up. By being a bystander, one purposefully shuts out inappropriate gestures, making them no better than the perpetrator. Obviously, not all men have malicious intentions, but by standing to the side, how would a distinction be made? More men need to become actively involved, because the sad reality is that they are the only ones who other men will listen to. Become comfortable with calling others out, for silence is violence. Furthermore, small displays of protection can prove to be extremely helpful for women. For example, a woman would be much more relieved when a man decides to cross to the opposite side of the road when walking at night. Offering to walk female friends home, refraining from making unnecessary comments, or speaking up for women when other men display poor behavior are all steps towards building a safer environment for all women.
This tragic event marks an unfortunate wake-up call for men and women alike. Following the vigil that was held for Sarah on Saturday, March 13th, increasing rallying cries have been made by women all over the world against gender violence. Sarah’s death became a symbol of the insecurity that women face daily whether in public spaces, or even at home. Thousands of women have taken to social media to speak up and share their stories. Further demands to implement change have been made by a variety of groups ranging from feminist organizations to conservative politicians, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will release a plan that will help combat violence against women later in the year. A campaign to include an amendment that would treat misogyny as a hate crime on a new domestic abuse bill has been in the works as well. Despite the steps being taken, many men are choosing to stay silent during these difficult times, and it is mainly women who are fighting for their own protection and safety. Though these campaigns are helpful, they still do not assure the complete safety of women. It is only a change in poor male behavior that will finally grant women the ability to walk home alone without fearing for their lives once and for all.