Sarah Everard’s name has become a symbol for all the women who have been attacked, yet whose stories have remained overlooked.
Following her abduction and murder, the 33-year old’s story has reignited the fight against gender-based violence in Britain as well as refocused our attention on the pressing matter of women’s safety.
Many have taken to the streets to voice their fear and fury over the pervasive and longstanding issue of violence against women. But in these unprecedented COVID times, most of the battle is taking place online.
Every time I open any form of social media, I’m immediately met with a profusion of posts and stories on the topic of sexual harassment. In the last week, I’ve read countless articles, bits of research and personal accounts on the subject, but throughout all my readings one number kept cropping up: 97. A study has found that 97% of women in Britain aged 18 to 24 have or will be sexually harassed.
Many women might not be surprised by this figure, but I certainly was.
For as long as I can remember, my mum has always alerted me to the many dangers that women face. And so, from an early age, I was made aware of the fact that I inhabited a vulnerable body and that it needed protecting.
As a kid, I was very keen on implementing my mum’s safety precautions – I always stayed close to my parents, I was careful around strangers and I NEVER accepted candy from a man in a van! All jokes aside, I was a very vigilant child.
But as I got older (and evidently not wiser), my mum’s words of caution passed me by. They simply became tedious lectures I had to sit through before a night out. I knew that women were targets, but my newfound freedom overshadowed any fears I might have had about being a girl, alone on the streets. I presumed my mum was just being overprotective.
If anything, I thought I was being a good feminist, rebelling against the notion that women are weak and resenting the fact they need to take more precautions than men when they go out. An honourable thought, however, society is nowhere near a point where this might be possible.
Walking home from a night out became a very fond ritual of mine: I enjoyed listening to my music on full blast, still feeling the buzz from my night of fun. I loved the feeling of invincibility I experienced as I roamed the streets of London in the early hours of the morning. Maybe it was the arrogance of being young that blinded me from the potential dangers I could encounter, but in those moments, I never thought any harm would come my way.
Not to say I didn’t occasionally feel the need to change footpaths, or clench my keys between my fingers, but generally speaking I felt safe in my little corner of London.
I realise that a big contributor to my carelessness for safety (other than my obvious arrogance) is my privilege.
I’m very lucky: I grew up in a loving family and have always been surrounded by benevolent people. I live in a nice apartment in Chelsea, a broadly safe neighbourhood, full of streetlights, shops and people at all hours of the night. My parents are generous enough to pay for my Ubers if I ever find myself in a situation where I don’t feel comfortable walking alone.
I’ve lived this very sheltered existence, and although I’ve always been warned about the perils of the world, it seemed to me that sexual harassment was something that wouldn’t happen to me. I have now been made aware that that is not the case. In fact, statistically speaking, it’s almost certain that it will happen to me.
I don’t want to depict myself as reckless, because I’m not. I’m smart and I take precautions, but as Sarah Everard’s case has shown us, that isn’t always enough. And although abduction and murder are on the worst end of a spectrum of violence against women, I know that I’m definitely not making the appropriate number of provisions to be as safe as I possibly can.
The figure 97% shocked me because it showed me just how extensive the issue of sexual harassment really is.
I’ve been hearing a lot about how men need to educate themselves on the topic of sexual harassment, and I echo that sentiment. But I’ve realised that, first and foremost, I need to educate myself on a matter that hugely concerns me.
Although Sarah Everard’s death is an undeniable tragedy, the movement that has blossomed as a result of it has given me an immense amount of hope for a safer future for women.
Stay safe and remember to look out for one another.