Like you I am shocked and disgusted by the news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance. I am thinking of her friends and family at this awful time. What happened to Sarah has hit home with so many women because the next immediate thought is that ‘this could have been me’. She was walking home, that’s all.
Sarah’s death is so horrific because it has exposed the truth that violence against women and girls is so commonplace, so excused and swept under the carpet so frequently. And the culture that creates and perpetuates this violence is everywhere.
Women have the right to walk down the street, day or night, free from fear of being attacked, kidnapped, or murdered.
Well-meaning advice for women to stick to well-lit main roads, choose clothing carefully, not drink too much and walk with your keys between your fingers exposes the fear that is so commonplace. And it shows how responsibility for safety is pushed onto the victim, not the perpetrator.
We need to focus more on why men attack women. Where is the responsibility for men? Where is the debate among men about the culture that makes so many women scared, sees so many women assaulted and results in so many women being killed by men?
Violence against women in our society is tolerated. 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. 80% of those assaults took place in public. 30% of women worldwide have been domestically abused. Calls to violence against women helplines have increased five-fold during the pandemic. But at the very same time domestic abuse prosecutions fell by 24% in 2019 and rape convictions fell by 19% in the same year.
These distressing statistics are connected, it’s time to join the dots. Violence against women and girls is an epidemic and it must be tolerated no longer. No woman should be subjected to threats of violence, not in public nor in private.
There will be people who will say, correctly, that not all men assault women. And they are right not all men assault women, but all men have a responsibility for making the world safer for women and girls. Every man in Plymouth and nationwide must step up and confront the culture of misogyny in our society and do better. It’s time to stop passively accepting violence against women as a societal norm.
In the coming days we will learn more about what happened to Sarah and who killed her. These will be painful days for those who knew and loved her, but it is painful too for women in every part of our country for whom the fear and experiences of abuse, of assault, of violence is all too real.
We must do better. And men must do better in particular.
For more information about receiving help after a rape or sexual assault, please visit the NHS website linked here.
Plymouth’s sexual assault referral centre can be contacted on 0300 3034626, for more information please click here.
The National Domestic Abuse Helpline number is: 0808 2000 247
The Rape Crisis national freephone helpline number is: 0808 802 9999
The Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Service number is: 01392 204174