The disappearance of 33-year-old Sarah Everard has sent the UK media into shock, yet most women remain unsurprised. According to the global organisation UN Women UK, 97% of 18-24 year old women have experienced sexual harassment. Additionally, 70% of women in the UK say they have experienced sexual harassment in public.
At the ripe age of seven, my mother had already told me of all the dangers women face in the world out there. “Do not let go of my hand,” she’d strictly say every time we went out, warning me against potential pedophiles, kidnappers and human traffickers.
As I entered my teens, I’d rarely walk around in the dark on my own. When I did walk alone, however, I would have my house keys tucked safely between the fingers of my fist in one hand. My other hand would prepare me for the worst situation, with my fingers resting against the rape alarm buttons, prepared to release its screeching wails at any moment. Avoid drunk people, avoid dark streets and alleyways, wear flat shoes so you can run, call a friend, share your location, don’t wear that dress, cross the street if a man walks behind you. The advice never ends.
As girls, we’re taught to walk the extra mile to protect ourselves. Sarah did everything right: she wore flat shoes, she called her partner, she walked under CCTV. Yet she never made it home.
In response to her disappearance, women in London have been advised by the police to stay at home. And now, women across the UK are starting to voice their frustration online. We need to stop blaming women for being attacked.
Sarah Broadfoot is one of the many women who have expressed their frustration from their phones. “We need to shift the dialogue,” She tweeted alongside an image saying “
Protect your daughter. Educate your son“.
Many women are tired of seeing #NotAllMen being used as a counter device whenever we pour our heart and soul out. We open up about truly traumatising and difficult events that have taken place in our lives just to be silenced by a hashtag.
The reality is that although not all men harass or catcall women, there are still a significant number that do. As many women have experienced some sort of sexual assault, there will naturally be a fear instilled with us when a man walks behind us on an unlit street at night. It is clear that not being one of “those” men is no longer enough.
We cannot continue be held accountable for the actions of others. Here are some things you can do to help:
Keep your distance
For our entire lives, many women have had to change our routes to feel safe on our way home. If you find yourself walking behind a woman at night you can simply cross the road and/or give her some space. If you’re very close, it can feel a bit threatening. Keeping your distance might not seem like a lot, but it’s a heavy weight lifted off our shoulders. Not staring is a plus!
Keep the comments to yourself
Those few nasty comments may seem harmless to you and your friends, but they can be incredibly uncomfortable and scary – especially to lone women. Catcalling is not flattery, it is simply harassment.
Be active and outspoken
If you see someone making a girl uncomfortable with their behaviour, intervene. Call fellow men or friends out if they say or do inappropriate things. If you stand by as your mates harass women, you are a part of the problem. Even if there are no women present, call out sexist behaviour. Keep the conversation alive.
Offer to walk your female friends home
Offer to walk with your friend home or to stay on a phone call until she has reached her destination. Her fear to walk home alone is very much valid. In some situations, walking someone home can be the very thing saving their life.
Listen to, believe in and assist women
Listen to what the women around you say and do your best to help them feel better. Do not dismiss their feelings or fears.
@DaywareUK on Instagram shares some additional points about listening to support, rather than to respond. In cases of sexual assault stories, it can be very hurtful and uncomfortable to not be believed. 45% of women surveyed told UN Women UK that they didn’t believe reporting assault would help, and the best you can do is to simply listen. Questioning the validity of her statement will only add to the hurt.