“My heartache, and that of others, can be summed up in just five words: ‘She was just walking home.” – Priti Patel, UK Home Secretary
On 3rd March this year, 33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared in South London. By 9th March, Officer Wayne Couzens of the Metropolitan Police was arrested. The following day, Sarah’s body was found, and Couzens was charged with Sarah’s kidnap and murder.
The tragic incident sparked outrage across the UK, leading to a vigil held for Sarah Everard on 13th March on Clapham Common arranged by a group called Reclaim These Streets. The vigil was attended by many women who felt frustrated with the situation, raising the question of whether women will ever feel safe in society to the forefront of everyone’s minds. The gathering was outdoors, and the attendees were mostly socially distanced, but was enough for the police to take action. The police were filmed forcefully arresting attendees and walking over the flowers laid in remembrance of Sarah. This response was highly criticised by the British public and even Boris Johnson spoke out on how “deeply disturbing” the footage had been. Later, an inquiry found that the response was “justified” but the public disagreed. On 14th March, more than one-thousand people marched from New Scotland Yard to Parliament Square to protest the actions taken against the women the previous day.
Due to Sarah’s murder, Members of Parliament have been locked in a debate on how to protect ‘vulnerable’ women. One of the rumours is that there will be plain clothed officers positioned in pubs and clubs to keep an eye on all the party goers. Another rumour was that men were going to be put on a 6pm curfew, with the belief that if the ‘source of the problem’ is kept away at night, women will be safe. However, it’s not just women who are at risk. Alongside the horrendously large number of 85,000 women each year who experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault between the ages of 16 and 59, around 12,000 men suffer through the same situation, according to a 2013 report by the Office of National Statistics, Home Office and Ministry of Justice. The risk to men and boys seems to have been overlooked, as people focus on the stereotype that women need protecting as they are seen as defenceless and easily taken advantage of.
No one should have to fear walking home alone, and no man or woman should be subjected to any type of sexual assault or harassment. Sarah Everard’s murder has sparked a conversation that has needed to be discussed for a very long time, and she will forever be remembered as a beautiful and brave woman. According to Rape Crisis England & Wales, approximately 15% of victims report their experience to the police and at least 90% knew their perpetrator prior to the offence. If the perpetrator is not reported, it is possible they may do it again. So if you or anyone you know has suffered any type of sexual assault or harassment, you need to report it and prevent it happening to others. I have attached below some support helplines, which specialise in rape and sexual abuse victim support:
Citizen’s Advice - Adviceline (England): 0800 144 8838
Equality and Advisory Support Service: Freephone 0808 800 0082
NHS Direct Helpline: 111