On March 3, Sarah Everard was walking home at night in South London when she went missing. Days later, a Metropolitan police officer was arrested under the suspicion of kidnapping. On March 12, the Metropolitan police confirmed that they found Everard’s body and arrested the police officer under suspicion of murder. The discovery of her body came two days after the release of a survey by UN Women that found 97 per cent of young women in the United Kingdom have been sexually harassed.
In this same report, they found that 96 per cent of women did not report the incidents and 45 per cent believed nothing would happen or change if authorities were informed. Both the results of the survey and the murder of Sarah Everard have exposed a complete lack of faith and trust in the police system and its protective measures.
The proportion of women who have been harassed is, sadly, unsurprising to me. The World Health Organization released the statistic that, on a global scale, one in three women experience sexual violence at some point in their life, especially younger women. As a young woman myself, my reaction to these statistics was an emotionless sigh. I realized that there is always a chance that I could be one of those women—that I will never be completely safe.
This realization hovers in the back of every woman’s mind, each time. Each time I walked back to the campus residence from the bus stop at 7 p.m. and the road lights weren’t working because of construction in front of Davis, and I’d be scared the guy in the hoodie walking a few metres behind me might just try something. Each time my friend would go home by bus at 9 p.m., and she would stay on the phone with me to make sure I was a witness to everything, just in case. Each time my roommate would teach me how she held her keys in between her fingers, ready to defend herself—just in case.
As a young woman, I know that not all men are bad enough to hurt me, but I am scared regardless because there are enough men that could. I was concerned by the responses to the release of the UN survey. A lot of men became defensive, claiming that this survey accuses 97 per cent of men of being assaulters, that women these days cannot take a joke, that not everything is harassment, and women are too sensitive. The response was expected and included victim-blaming and women shaming.
Sarah Everard did everything that a woman is “supposed” to do to ensure her safety: she was on a call with her boyfriend while walking home, she shared her location with her friends, she walked on a well-lit road, she wore proper shoes and clothes that covered her full body, she didn’t have headphones on to could have made her less aware of her surroundings. She did what every woman has been conditioned to do to make sure that we don’t get hurt. Yet, she was kidnapped and murdered anyways.
What a lot of boys, and honestly, some girls, have failed to realize is how normalized rape culture has become. Even the common phrase “to hit on” used in circumstances of flirtation or sexual engagement comes from violence. It is rooted in the demand for unwanted sexual favours—a predatory dynamic. The language used in the media about sexual cases is passive—it’s always the woman that got raped and not the man that raped. The passive language in headlines and reports shifts the blame onto the woman for her actions that made her get raped, instead of the man who did it. This is not the case for other violent crimes like murder, where the aggressor is almost always labelled in the headlines. The denial of the aggressor in the media is another way of perpetuating victim shaming and blaming.
Girls are taught how to defend themselves instead of boys being taught to not come off as aggressive. Yes, “#notallmen,” but it is “#allwomen.” Instead of censuring women’s bodies with strict dress codes, teach men how to be more professional and not get distracted. The culture to make women accommodate to men’s desires and aggression needs to stop. It is not a woman’s job to take a joke that is offensive to her, and what may not be offensive to one woman doesn’t mean it’s not offensive to all women. It is not a woman’s job to convince a man that she feels scared.
It is not a woman’s job to make someone want to fight for her justice and safety.UN Women UK’s executive director Claire Barnett said, “This is a human rights crisis. It’s just not enough for us to keep saying, ‘this is too difficult a problem for us to solve.’ It needs addressing now.”