Recent events have sent shockwaves through our community – here's how we can take strength and courage from a dark time
Content warning: sexual assault and violence towards women
Violence and abuse towards women has been at the forefront of our minds in recent months, or at least more so than usual. Yesterday’s devastating news that a serving police officer has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who went missing in London on 3 March, has shaken us all to the core and, along with countless other tales from women who have experienced first-hand a rise in sexist abuse recently, has left many of us feeling afraid.
It has also made a lot of us feel angry. Angry on behalf of our sisters who have been harmed. Angry at the men who imagine they have a right to our bodies. And angry at the persistent narrative that we as women must change our behaviour to feel safe, which only serves to feed the very beast that oppresses us in the first place.
It’s completely understandable to feel frightened and to want to adapt to protect yourself, but we can’t let the actions of men destroy our joy and our freedom. Sarah’s attacker has ruined lives already and it breaks our hearts that he could go on to ruin more by spreading fear.
Sarah, and others like her, did all the things we tell women to do to avoid harm. She wore shoes that she could run in, she called her partner from her phone and she told people where she was going. When we take awful circumstances like this and our reaction is to put the responsibility on ourselves not to be sexually assaulted, we shift the blame away from the perpetrators.
Sarah Everard, Rhiannon Linington-Payne and Sarah McDonald are just a few of the high-profile cases that have caused despair and concern among women recently, but unfortunately this goes deeper than just what we read in the news. BAME women are often left out of this conversation, and we don’t see the faces of Blessing Olusegun and Bibaa Henry all over social media in the way we do white women. In a recent investigation by UN Women UK it was discovered that 97% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 had been sexually harassed at some point. Yes, this statistic is shocking, but sadly most of the women we’ve spoken to about it weren’t particularly surprised.
Figures like these, when coupled with real-life scenarios, are incredibly overwhelming and cause a huge amount of emotional distress for women. The last thing we want to be doing on top of that is putting the brakes on the things we enjoy. Here are some of the ways we’re channeling that fear and rage that don’t involve changing our behaviour as women:
- Talk to the men in your life and ask them what they’re doing to help women feel safer. Do they consider the way they conduct themselves when walking close to a woman at night? Crossing the road or dropping back so as not to make us feel intimated would be a good place to start.
- Protest as loudly as you can: we have every right to walk home at night, run along a canal path or take public transport on our own. We have every right to feel safe in our communities, and we must put more pressure on those whose job it is to keep us safe to actively prevent harassment or assault. If you’re interested in taking part, there’s a socially-distanced vigil for Sarah taking place on Clapham Common this weekend where activists will demand that authorities do more to keep our streets safe.
We stand with Sarah and with every woman who has been made to feel unsafe simply for being a woman. We extend our deepest sympathies to Sarah’s family, and to all those who have lost someone they love this way.
And we will keep on running, walking home and moving through the world as women, supporting each other and ridding ourselves of the stigma that sexual harassment or violence is our fault. It never was. It never will be.
We’re working on a campaign to help women feel safer on our streets, so we’ll keep you updated. But in the meantime, don’t hesitate to drop us an email if you’re feeling sad, scared or angry about the events of the last few weeks. We’re always here.
If you are a victim of sexual assault or harassment, you can seek professional advice here.