Just In Case, Pretend You're On A Call

Hi Reader Friend,

I didn’t intend to write today, but I couldn’t ignore the story of Sarah Everard and the thousands of women raising their voices this week. Worth you being aware there is a story of abuse within this letter you may need to tread carefully reading.

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On the 3rd of March, Sarah Everard, age 33, left her friend’s house in southwest London at 9pm. That was the last she was seen. A week later, human remains were found and later confirmed to be those of Sarah. And just yesterday, Wayne Couzens, a MET police officer was charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah.

The high-profile case has been picked up by women everywhere.

Women sharing their experiences of walking on the streets: going a different route to avoid men, changing the way they dress to minimise attention, carrying keys as a precaution, pretending to talk on the phone, and being stared up and down, groped, harassed, followed, and cat-called by men, raped, and even killed.

Women sharing their experiences of fear of reporting to the police because they have been ignored before. Not taken seriously. Sometimes charged themselves.

Women who find the media too much because it has triggered emotions and pain and memories of being violated and abused.

Women who are calling for change. MP Jess Phillips read out all 120 names of women killed in the UK this year where a man had been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator.

#ReclaimTheseStreets has planned a candlelight vigil and fundraising efforts to support women’s causes. When I spoke with one of the organizers of the vigil, Caitlin Prowle, she expressed what she hopes for tonight’s remembrance: “We want to give space to thousands of women and men who wanted to find a way to commemorate Sarah Everard’s life and so many women who lose their lives to violence.”

She continued to express what she thinks will lead to change: “The most important thing is getting acknowledgement that this is an issue. Then we can look at structural changes that can be made - prosecuting cases, criminal justice reform, and fundraising for charities that help women affected by these issues.”

The case has attracted men who want to be part of the solution to helping women feel more confident when out and about. Ideas such as crossing the street to avoid her, keeping a safe distance when jogging, waiting for a separate lift to arrive, walking women friends home, letting a woman know if you are approaching behind her, and talking with other men friends about respecting women. All men aren’t bad, but that shouldn’t be the acceptable expectation. Are men calling out men for the harm and fear they cause women?

Unfortunately, there are also people calling on women not to become hysterical following Sarah’s death. Marion Fitzgerald, a criminology professor at the University of Kent reminded the public that “women account for about a third of all murders. Men are far more likely to be murdered. Men are far more likely to be murdered by someone they don't know. Men are far more likely to be murdered in a public place, and that hasn't changed. I think I'm entitled to say as a woman, we shouldn't pander to stereotypes and get hysterical."

Fitzgerald completely missed the point. 97% of young women have been sexually harassed in the UK. Nearly every woman. The outrage at Sarah’s disappearance and death has jolted us all to remember the spectrum of violence against women that breeds fear on the streets, in the home, at the workplace. This week isn’t meant to argue that women get killed and men don’t. It was meant to show that women face countless acts of sexual harassment and physical violence at the hands of men – and it’s completely unacceptable.

In an email sent to me today, one person described the tragic loss of their best friend in 1995 following an incident that happened to her in London, only 300 yards from where Sarah Everard was last seen:

“She had been dragged off the street by three men and bundled into a van. This happened in broad daylight. She was then subjected to the most horrific multiple rape and torture over several hours. I never give the full details as it is just too horrible. Enough to say it was unimaginably awful. I am the only person still alive who knows exactly what happened. She wouldn’t go to hospital even though it was obvious that she should. And there was no way I could try to physically force her. I stayed with her for three nights and days until her sister returned. She was a nurse and she did physically force her. In hospital she had radical emergency surgery. During those three days I treated her injuries as best I could. Including some awful internal injuries. And I heard what had happened in bits and pieces over those days. She said she’d been frightened they were going to kill her and she now wished they had. 

After a few very hard weeks she seemed to pretty much recover psychologically. But then she hit an awful time of PTSD. A little over two years later she died by suicide.”

Over a decade later, and we are still fighting misogynist violence against women.

Women. Men. Let’s join in solidarity with Sarah’s family and the thousands of women that have been victims of sexual harassment and violence to raise awareness and spark change.

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