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3 March 2022

One year on from the murder of Sarah Everard, it’s time for men to stand up

When will society view violence against women the way it does paedophilia?

By Deborah Frances-White

The first words of her Wikipedia page are: “On the evening of 3 March 2021, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was kidnapped…”

Her life is reduced, by the necessary shorthand of the Information Age, to the number of years she’d breathed on this earth and her role at a digital media agency. That’s because the Wikipedia page isn’t devoted to her life. The title of the entry isn’t “Sarah Everard” but rather “The murder of Sarah Everard”: her much loved and lived life overshadowed by her cruel, untimely death.

“The murder of”, “was kidnapped as she was walking home”. It’s all so shockingly passive, isn’t it? As if being kidnapped is an occupational hazard of walking home for women. We all know it can be, as we charge down the street, head down, guard up, our peripheral vision somehow extending to a 360 degree sweep through sheer force of will.

The next line of this Wikipedia entry names the man who brutally abused his position as a police officer to falsely arrest, rape and murder her, before disposing of her precious body in the most unthinkable way. Being on full alert with keys between your fingers, ready to dial 999, does you no good at all when it’s an officer of the law you’re up against.

Her socially-distanced, outdoor, silent vigil was banned by the Metropolitan Police who allowed other activist and sporting events to go on around the same time. Some of the women who turned up regardless were treated brutally, and pictures of young women pinned to the ground by Wayne Couzens’ former co-workers were splashed across the front pages of our papers. The Met Police have since been taken to court by a collection of activists known as “Reclaim These Streets” as they argue that the ban was unlawful in the first place.

Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim The Streets, told me today: “After the High Court heard the arguments on January 17th and 18th, we’ve just been waiting to hear if they agree that the Metropolitan Police violated our human rights by forbidding us from holding a vigil for Sarah Everard. The decision was expected in February, so we are just awaiting the news. If the decision is in our favour, it means that the human right to protest regardless of Covid restrictions would be enshrined in law and not left up to a police department’s interpretation of the law.”

We can only hope justice will have a moment in the sun and that Reclaim These Streets will be victorious. Cressida Dick has resigned either way. A “cultural shift” in the Met Police has been promised after other damning evidence including photographs and WhatsApp groups have revealed a frightening attitude of misogyny, racism and homophobia pervading the force.

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The vast majority of men will never murder anyone, of course. The truth is though, while women are consistently othered and unrepresented in our society, the few men who do wish to hurt and kill women are bolstered into thinking that women are disposable victims who deserve the worst. It’s in the constant messages in film and music. It’s in the gender divide in prominent roles and spaces. It’s in the trolling of women online. When will society show its repugnance for violence against women the way it shows its repugnance for paedophilia? When will television shows making women the disposable victims of violent men stop being the norm?

Not long ago I sat in a train carriage while a man loudly bragged, as if it were funny, about how he’d violated a woman and had not even called her a cab. It sounded really violent. The men he was telling laughed nervously. The rest of the men around me looked down at their phones pretending they couldn’t hear. I took him on because I couldn’t not. I knew I risked him being violent to me. I knew he’d never listen to me because I was the other. The reality is until the good, wonderful and even passable, non-violent men in our society who see women as human beings and individuals look up and say “no more”, the way they would if that same man were talking about hurting a child, it won’t begin to change. It’s a difficult thing to do, but it’s time for men to do it.

That said, it’s not only men we need on board. It’s women of influence. The MP Stella Creasy is working very hard to make it a law that misogynistic crimes must be registered as hate crimes, the same way racially motivated and religiously aggravated crimes are logged so that we can see and acknowledge the scale of the problem and understand the minds of the perpetrators. Priti Patel is trying very hard to stop her. You can write to or tweet your MP right now and say that you think Sarah Everard was raped and killed because Wayne Couzens hated women. I don’t think there’s any way that Sarah was his first victim and neither does any woman I know. She might have been the first woman he murdered, but not the first to experience his violence. I fear she may have been his first white, resourced or cared-for victim, and that’s why we all know her name.

Recognising that and making misogyny a hate crime is something active we could do in her honour in a world of passivity, one year on from her tragic death.

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