An image of Sarah Everard, 33, shared by London’s Metropolitan Police. Met Police
A serving police officer has been charged with the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard.
Since Everard’s disappearance on March 3, women have been sharing their own stories of harassment.
Many spoke of the fear of what could happen to them while they are alone in public.
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The killing of a young London woman is empowering women to speak up about the fears they face on a daily basis.
Sarah Everard, 33, was last seen on a doorbell camera walking down a busy road around 9:30 p.m. on March 3, toward her apartment in Brixton after visiting a friend in neighboring Clapham, South London.
Earlier this week, officer Wayne Couzens of the London Metropolitan Police was arrested in connection to Everard’s disappearance. On Friday, investigators identified human remains found in a woodland as Everard’s, and the officer was charged with her kidnap and murder.
‘Men simply do not know’
Everard’s disappearance has hit home for many British women, who took to social media to describe how they have been harassed by men, and the lengths they go to protect themselves while alone at night.
“I’ve been followed home too many times to count,” the singer Nadine Shah tweeted Thursday. “Once I had to hide in a bush for over an hour until two men gave up looking for me. I could hear them plotting explicitly what they were going to do to me and laughing.”
A UN Women UK/YouGov poll conducted after Everard’s disappearance, published by The Guardian, found that 80% of women in the UK have been sexually harassed in public spaces.
“For all those women who text their mates to let them know they got home safe, who wear flat shoes at night so they can run if they need, who have keys in their hands ready to use, it’s not your fault. It never is,” Anna Yearly, joint executive director of the NGO Reprieve tweeted Wednesday.
The TV presenter Shelagh Fogarty shared a list of sexual-harassment incidents she’d experienced throughout her life, with the earliest being followed home from school when she was ten.
Many women said they felt their gender is unduly burdened by the fear of harassment, saying men don’t experience the same near-daily fears of being assaulted, kidnapped, raped, or murdered if they are out alone at night.
An anonymous woman wrote in The Standard that she was harassed the same night Everard went missing, in the same area, and that what upset her the most about the incident was how surprised the men in her life were about it.
“Men simply do not know” the relief she and other women “feel when we close our front doors behind us,” the woman wrote.
A missing-person poster for Everard is seen on Clapham Common, near the site of her disappearance, on March 9, 2021. Leon Neal/Getty
The journalist Caitlin Moran explained how the fears of being a woman amount to her essentially having a curfew.
“Being a woman: my ‘outside’ day finishes at sundown. If I haven’t taken the dog for a walk/jogged by then, I can’t. In the winter, it often means the choice between exercise and work. Today, I had to stop work at 4 to exercise. My husband worked until 6, and is now off for a run,” Moran tweeted Wednesday.
Disappearances are rare – but women know it could be anyone
For Faye White, Everard’s story has brought back unwelcome memories.
The 28-year-old producer told Insider she was assaulted last April on a well-lit London street while cycling home from work.
At one point, she had to get off her bike to navigate roadworks, she said. Britain was under its first COVID-19 lockdown at the time, so the streets were quiet.
At that moment, a man – who appeared to be drunk or high, she said – came around the corner. “There wasn’t going to be space for both us to pass through this obstruction, so I stood still with my bike and hoped that he didn’t notice me,” she said.
White said there was an altercation between them and, just when she thought he had gone, he approached her from behind and sexually assaulted her. She declined to go into further detail on the nature of the assault.
She said a male delivery cyclist was across the street and, she thinks, likely saw the whole thing – but he did nothing.
White, who is a campaigner for women’s rights and was already a rape survivor before that day, was keen to report the assault to prevent the attacker from targeting any other women that night.
But when she did, she was told that unless she had the man’s name and address, she would unlikely see a result – and that it would be up to her to source the surveillance footage of the assault, she said.
She said it felt as though much of the responsibility for finding the man would fall to her.
This kind of experience – or the fear of it – has become part of everyday life for women and non-binary people, she said.
“Catcalling and verbal violence happens on our streets, as well as physical advances,” she said.
“I think the overarching problem is that this has been so woven into the fabric of our society, that women and non-binary people are just expected to brush it off and just kind of accept that it’s part of our everyday.”
Politicians like Home Secretary Priti Patel and Labour MP Jess Phillips have also weighed in.
“Many women have shared their stories and concerns online since Sarah’s disappearance last week,” Patel said in a statement Thursday. “These are so powerful because each and every woman can relate.”
In parliament on Thursday, Phillips spent more than four minutes reading out the names of every woman killed in the UK in the past year, as a result of violence where a man was convicted or charged as the main perpetrator.
Phillips also tweeted that there had been a 23% drop in rape convictions last year and a 24% drop in domestic-abuse prosecution by the end of 2019.
“We are not tough on crimes against women and children perpetrated by men,” she wrote.
Could more have been done?
Questions have been raised as to whether the Met overlooked a troubling sign about its own officer, who the force said faces a separate charge of indecent exposure.
The Sun reported that he had exposed himself three days before Everard’s disappearance, at a South London McDonald’s, but that he wasn’t arrested and continued working as an officer. The Met now faces a watchdog investigation which will partly examine how it dealt with the exposure incident, the BBC reported.
Reflecting on Everard and the exposure investigation, White said: “I do hope that this case has sent shockwaves through the country and through the Met. However, it’s not new.”
“Yes, abductions are very rare, but everyday street violence happens,” she said. “And every woman you know has a story, if not multiple.”
The Met has also received criticism for telling women in Clapham and Brixton not to go out alone at night after Everard’s disappearance, The Sun reported Monday.
“Why are we still feeding into the dangerous narrative that the onus is on women to protect themselves from violent men, instead of holding men accountable for harassing, intimidating, and harming women?” asked Ali Pantony in Glamour UK on Thursday. “In 2021, why are we still playing the ‘but how short was her skirt’ card?”
Meanwhile, activists are fighting the Met’s decision to ban a vigil for Everard on Saturday, citing coronavirus concerns.
The organizers have hired lawyers at the prestigious Bindmans, Doughty Street, and Blackstone barristers chambers to fight the Met’s decision, Law.com reported. The group has strong support: a crowdfunding campaign for legal fees met its goal of £30,000 ($36,600) within an hour on Thursday, per The Guardian.
Mary Morgan, one of the organizers, told The Guardian that the decision to ban the vigil amounted to silencing women.
“Women are being silenced in every single way. They are not being allowed to express their desire to be safe,” Morgan said. “I think that it’s really important to give women and allies space to come together in solidarity to stand up against an oppressive system. These are the arms of the patriarchy at work here.”
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