Content Warning: Mentions of sexual assault, murder, and kidnap. Viewer discretion advised.
On March 3rd, 33-year old marketing executive Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s house at 9:00 pm. Dressed in bright clothing, on the phone with a loved one, and walking along a well-lit London street, she was doing everything women across the globe have been told to do to stay safe in public after dark.
The next day, Sarah Everard was reported missing. A week later, she was found dead in a nearby wooded area, and active Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens was charged with her kidnap and murder.
“It could have been me”
Across the globe, Everard’s death has sparked powerful conversations surrounding men’s violence and women’s safety, with numerous women sharing their stories online. Nearly four years after the #MeToo movement, women everywhere still take a plethora of precautions in order to walk safely in public areas after the sun sets—carrying rape whistles, gripping keys between knuckles, avoiding eye contact, and wearing flat shoes to sprint at a moment’s notice. From a young age, girls are trained to always be vigilant in these situations, because though “not all men” are predators, there’s no way of knowing who is and who isn’t one if you’re a woman alone at night. “I was raised to fear men,” says one student from Yorkshire, Tiana McKay, in the wake of Everard’s death. “I’ve become desensitized to these awful things happening to women,” she continues. What touched a nerve for many was that despite doing everything she was “supposed to do,” Sarah Everard was still murdered, leaving young women everywhere realizing it could just as easily have been themselves.
“Arrest your own”
Everard’s murder at the hands of a police officer was by no means an isolated incident; it’s yet another case that has brought the issue of police brutality against women and minorities to global attention. Police officers are seen by many as perpetrators of violence also due to the vast number of sexual assaults left unprosecuted. It has led many to conclude that though law enforcement officers are meant to protect the public’s safety, increased policing will not resolve the fear women and many marginalized communities live in globally. According to a study conducted by RAINN, out of every 1000 sexual assaults, 995 perpetrators walk free. Specifically in London, a 2019 report from The Independent found that of the 562 London police officers accused of sexual assault between 2012 in 2018, only 31 faced disciplinary proceedings. “[Everard’s murder] has shined the light on the concerning, long term problem in policing and how public order policing operates in this country,” says Rosalind Comyn, campaigns manager of the human rights organization Liberty. “This is part of a wider range of attacks that we’re seeing on the mechanisms that we have to hold the people in power to account,” she furthers. New York Times writer Amanda Taub explains that when calls were made to defund the police amid the Black Lives Matter movement, many opponents argued that police officers were necessary to protect the safety of women. But Everard’s murder and cases just like hers have led many to call for deeper, societal changes, arguing that giving the police more power will worsen the problem if police are seen as perpetrators of violence against women.
“She was just walking home”
Everard’s murder and the police violence at her vigil have reignited conversations surrounding the ubiquitous assaults against women across the globe. Additionally, it has highlighted the longstanding issues of police brutality against women and people of color, domestic violence, and rape. The history of every civilization over the millennia shows us that women have been oppressed and treated with indignity across cultures over the ages. It is truly disheartening to see that some elements of that mentality still persist to this day. It will take nothing less than a fundamental change in our society, brought about by sustained campaigns to educate the current and future generations, to raise awareness of the issue at a global scale, and begin to remedy the injustice.