‘A woman should have been allowed to walk home.’
TW: references to violence against women
On March 3rd, Sarah Everard disappeared in London. A week later, her remains were found and a police officer was charged with kidnapping and murdering her. This terrible act happened as the UK and the world marked International Women’s Day and the world is still not a safe place for women.
This story is a tragedy. A young woman was snatched off from the street and murdered by a policeman, a person in authority who is supposed to protect and keep us safe. But the reality is that, even though Everard took the necessary precautions, terrible acts like this can happen to anyone by anyone. Her murder and vigil marked the first anniversary in which the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 is a global pandemic and violence against women has increased over the last year.
A Six-Word Text Goes Viral
“‘Text me when you get home xxx’ is a standard procedure amongst women. Auto-pilot.”
During the weekend, an Instagram post by Lucy Mountian went viral on the social media platform. It was a WhatsApp message reading “text me when you get home xxx.” This is a text that every woman has received or sent to her friends. It’s a message of safety and universal fear that a lot of women are familiar with, and it highlights how women check on each other when they are walking alone. Instead of “goodbye” texts, reassuring that you have returned home safely is a habit for a lot of women.
Lucy’s post mentions how hyper-conscious women are when protecting themselves from danger and collective anxiety when walking alone in the streets at night. All of this is true. Women take extra measures to protect themselves with keys clenched into their fists, carrying pepper spray, pretending to talk on the phone, avoiding certain roads if they are too crowded or running down the roads, looking over their shoulder and wearing colourful clothes. Even wearing headphones on the streets is avoided due to fear of not hearing who is walking behind us. There is a deep sense of understanding behind this message amongst women. Nobody would have thought this six-word text had so much meaning behind it. It is upsetting that women have to protect themselves from men who want to hurt them, for no other reason than just being a woman.
A space for global solidarity
After the news of Everard’s remains and the details of the case, many women shared stories of sexual harassment, being followed, stalked and exposed on the streets. Women on social media started sharing their experience of harassment on the streets and even in private spaces, highlighting there are no safe spaces for women. Posts shared personal tips on how to be careful while walking alone in the streets. These include sharing locations and emergency call shortcuts to keep their partners or family informed.
The narrative of women’s safety
While there was collective solidarity amongst women on the news of Everard’s murder, a conversation on taking steps to protect women came to light. People on social media expressed their opinions on what women should do to get out of terrible situations like this, and the truth is that we do take necessary precautions. The assumption that women do not already look behind their shoulder or call their partners when they are returning home shows how men do not face that kind of danger in their lives.
Women should be able to feel safe everywhere. They should not need to clench keys inside their fists or look back obsessively or fake phone calls to get home safely. There is a much more important conversation to have than telling women what to do: it is for men to learn and change certain behaviors. It is not a woman’s responsibility to take safety precautions.
At the same time, conversations like “not all men,” “trial by social media” and “concerns about men’s mental health” started derailing the conversation and the actual problem of women’s safety. Most people were against calling out all men for being responsible and men felt they were being targeted for this. Yes, not all men can rape and kill women, but it is always men who do this. People were more concerned about men’s mental health and how men would feel about being accused of something that was not even a part of rather than what happened to Sarah Everand. Not only is it idiotic, but it is also an insult to actual men’s mental health when women are speaking about the dangers that they face.
Women are not the problem
The responses by men, and sometimes women, have been disappointing, to say the least. Blatantly ignoring these dangers and safety problems in a community has consequences. There is not a space that is safe for women, and this is something that all women share collectively around the world.
Women should not have to take extra precautions to feel safe walking home or anywhere else. The issue of violence against women cannot be solved by derailing the conversation and taking priority on whose feelings should be safeguarded. The purpose of sharing stories of harassment is not to find out who has had it the worst, it is to understand where the problem lies. Stop blaming women for the actions of abusive men.
It is not surprising that there is still not enough done to provide safety for women. To this day, women are expected to change their routes, clothes and behaviours when they are alone. Women are not the problem. Women do not have to dress modestly, travel in groups or carry weapons to protect themselves. In the case of Sarah Everard, she followed all the rules that authorities and society tell women to follow and yet she was not able to return home safely. It is tragic and deeply disturbing and hopefully there will be action taken to ensure the safety of women.