The abduction of Sarah Everard as she walked home along quiet London streets has shocked the country.
It has ignited a national conversation about women’s safety and, with echoes of the #MeToo movement, this seems to be a seminal moment. A realisation that things cannot carry on as they are, that enough is enough, change has to happen.
The head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick said it was incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted. But sexual harassment is commonplace.
Sarah’s death has sparked an outpouring on social media of women recounting their experiences of sexual harassment and assault whilst going about their daily lives.
Sky News reporter Kate McCann spoke for so many when she tweeted a description of a walk home and the precautions she takes, “Keys gripped between fingers, we map the corner shops we could duck into en route. Should I cross the road or will that make it worse?”
How that resonates. That feeling when you’re running in the park and you hear heavy footsteps behind, your heart racing, you imagine the worst. But it turns out to be nothing and you shrug it off and carry on, because, well, that’s just life. It’s how things are.
And every woman I’ve spoken to in the last few days has had a similar story to tell.
Back in 1977 when the Yorkshire Ripper was terrorising the north of England, police advised that women should stay inside after dark. There was outrage and they took to the streets to march, waving placards with slogans such as: “No curfew on women – curfew on men.”
So much has changed since then, right? Well, reportedly police told women who lived close to where Sarah disappeared that they should stay home at night for a while. So, no, actually, not much appears to have changed at all.
Many believe that failings in the criminal justice system are allowing a small minority of predatory men to get away with their vile behaviour.
Last year conviction rates for sexual assault in Scotland fell to their lowest level in a decade, with campaigners saying we’re being let down by the system.
Just over half of survivors seeking support from rape crisis centres in 2019-2020 hadn’t reported to the police. Why? Because they didn’t think justice would be done.
There needs to be a culture change too. Some men have gone on social media asking how they can help women feel safer. Well, that’s a good start.
A male friend tweeted that this should be seen as a men’s problem not a women’s problem. What a welcome shift in perspective that is.
My 16-year-old daughter said she felt vulnerable walking around Edinburgh on her own. Her friends feel the same. And it wasn’t just at night-time that they felt afraid.
That just about broke my heart and made me feel so guilty that my generation has been far too complacent and accepting of the status quo.
This is not the world I want my daughters growing up in. So let’s work for change for the sake of Sarah Everard’s family and for women everywhere.
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