Sarah Everard and the Reemergence of Women's Safety
Sarah Park and Katherine Ashley Chen
May 18, 2021
Carrying pepper spray. Using Life360. Pretending to be on the phone. Avoiding certain articles of clothing. Abstaining from going out. Asking a friend to walk them to the car park. Sending Uber car plate numbers to guardians. These are all actions and precautions that young girls and women all over the world must take in order to ensure their safety.
On March 3rd 2021 at 9PM, Sarah Everard left her friend’s house to return home. While en route, she phoned her boyfriend and agreed to meet him the next day on March 4th. But she never showed up the next day, and her boyfriend subsequently reported her missing. On March 9th, the police announced that they had arrested a police officer named Wayne Couzens in connection to Everard’s disappearance. On March 10th, while police were searching a forest, they found human remains in a bag. On 12th March, Everard’s body was identified through dental records and Couzen was charged with the abduction and murder of Everard.
Most, if not all women and non-binary people, can relate to the experience of feeling unsafe while in public, whether alone or in a group, and one reading about the case might wonder why it has gained so much traction. There are many other women who have experienced a similar situation, so what makes this stand out? The answer is that Sarah Everard followed all safety advice to the tee—she wore bright clothing, she walked on a well-lit path and she let a loved one know her route, but somehow still fell victim to this unfathomable tragedy. Even more seriously, her attacker was a police officer—someone we have, since young, been taught to trust and depend on. If we can’t even trust those who are supposed to protect us, who can we trust?
Despite the standard responsibility of a police officer, the second most reported complaint against police officers in the United States is for sexual misconduct. The impact of Sarah Everard’s death has illuminated both the systemic sexism and racism integrated into the criminal justice system, shining a light on prejudice within society as a whole. In a similar incident last summer in North London, two sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, were killed, though their case received far less media traction. If their case was similar and just as recent, why is it almost unheard of? What is the difference between them and Sarah Everard? The two sisters are of black and minority descent. Their mother claims “there was no urgency” in searching for them after the family reported them missing (The Independent), and the level of media attention and outcry was significantly different between the two cases. Despite the tragedy of Sarah Everard’s death, it also highlights the gaping difference between the attention given to the safety of coloured and non-coloured people.
When it comes to the discussion on the rising cases of sexual assault again women, there has also been the emergence of the topic of male safety and how similar things happen to men. Men, under Instagram posts that discuss women safety, comment things like, “The same thing happens to men as well. We also feel unsafe. We also get raped.” While their claims are true, these two topics do not belong in the same conversation. The severity of the issue for women is far greater compared to that of men; numbers tells us that women are victimized at far greater rates compared to men. Nonetheless, the issue of male safety and protection is valid and should also be addressed, though simply not in this context. It is disrespectful of both men and women to diminish the significance of female safety.
Finally, any discussion of women’s safety and protection would be redundant without additional discussion of suggestion and improvement. Firstly, figures in power with a significant platform, in particular men, should take a stance on violence against women and use their influence to promote a cultural shift, in which bystanders are eradicated. Social media is the most powerful tool that leaders may use, if they so choose, to influence the word for the better. Additionally, police officers should be given proper training on recognising violence against women and providing women with the appropriate help. Lastly, education regarding violent behaviour towards women should be integrated in early childhood to prevent any issues from emerging later on.
Although all these changes are important, they can only be implemented by large institutions and figures in power. But what are we able to do as individuals? Simply listen without judgement and be mindful of what the women around us have to say. We can check in with those arund us, and by doing so, protect them.
In light of the reemergence of the topic, as women ourselves, we hope to see the advancement of women’s rights and the greater development of awareness of the precautions that women have to take on a daily basis. Society must make positive changes in their behaviour to correct the status quo in order for women—half the global population—to feel safe. It should not take the brutal injustice of Sarah Everard’s rape and murder for society to start to care.