Sarah Everard did everything right. On March 3 at 9 p.m., the 33-year-old left her friend’s home, taking the long route home through busy and well-lit streets, all while talking to her boyfriend on the phone. But she didn’t make it home. On March 9, Metropolitan Police arrested serving police officer Wayne Couzens, and on March 10, Everard’s remains, identified through dental records, were found in a builder’s bag in the woodlands south of London. Everard’s abduction was cruel and unjust, prompting global outrage and grief--why is there still victim-blaming? How could the murderer be a serving police officer? And when will women ever feel safe?
Everard’s death has sparked public debate on women’s safety issues. Everard followed all of the advice typically given to women to stay safe, yet she was still killed. What if she hadn’t followed the advice? What if she wasn’t talking to her boyfriend on the phone, or what if she wasn’t wearing as much? Undoubtedly, Everard would have been blamed, even though it was never her fault to begin with--it was the killer’s fault. Wayne Couzens’ fault. Ultimately, the causes for such abhorrent crimes boil down to misogyny. Misogyny favors men, and it can make them feel entitled to women’s care and attention and thus make women feel objectified, embarrassed, and ashamed of themselves for not obliging to men’s demands. The #NotAllMen movement shows the divide between men and women. Rather than trying to understand and reduce the dangers that women experience daily, the mostly-male audience has tried to downplay and blame survivors of assault, saying that men experience violence, too, and that not all men are aggressors.
Mary Morgan, an advisor to Reclaim These Streets, an organization that aims to make public spaces safer for women, explained, “No one is saying that men don’t experience violence against them, and that violence is committed by other men. But it’s an issue when people only bring up violence against men in relation to violence against women. It’s an effort to silence and belittle women … downplaying the realities of disproportionate violence that women face on a day-to-day basis...We’re not asking a lot—we’re just asking to not be assaulted or murdered.” Men and women alike were quick to condemn the #NotAllMen movement, demonstrating unity and solidarity.
A topic of interest is police violence. After all, it was a serving police officer who murdered Sarah Everard. Although current data is not well established, past research from the National Center for Women and Policing found that at least 40% of police officers are known domestic abusers. This grim irony, that women and civilians are endangered by the people meant to protect them, demonstrates the system’s absolute failure, and it’s even more ironic that before Couzens’ arrest, his fellow police officers were knocking on doors and telling women to be careful about going out alone. Much like misogyny, police violence involves the sense of entitlement and of having control over others, which brings to attention the need for deep systemic and cultural reform to outroot misogyny.
According to a survey from UN Women UK, 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed. The survey also found a severe lack of faith in the UK’s authorities to handle sexual harassment, with 45% of surveyors saying that reporting incidents would not change anything. This disparity between women and the authorities was highlighted at the vigils for Sarah Everard. Men and women of all backgrounds gathered peacefully to mourn for Everard and to urge reform in government legislation. However, the Metropolitan Police, the same police force that Couzens served, forcefully disbanded the vigil with disproportionate violence, citing violations of COVID-19 restrictions.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the police’s actions “deeply concerning,” and after further protests, his government proposed a $34 million plan for better lighting, more CCTVs, and also plainclothes police, or police officers who would go undercover in clubs and bars disguised as ordinary civilians. This particular choice of response has received harsh criticism--not only did Everard’s kidnapping not happen at a club or a bar, but it was also a police officer himself who murdered her, and many women already distrust police. Although the sentiment to provide further protection is welcome, assault and harassment happen everywhere, not only in nightclubs. Sending undercover agents to essentially spy on women is also extremely uncomfortable and ineffective--why oppress the victims when authorities should be focusing on predators and the larger enemy at hand--misogyny?
A notable proposal by the government was to classify misogyny as a hate crime. On an experimental basis, police will be required to record crimes motivated by misogyny, which will provide further data on the violence that women face every day and will also be a crucial step forward to rooting out misogyny. The bill, expected to be passed this autumn, has received praise from many politicians and advocates. Stella Creasy, a member of Parliament who proposed the bill, said, "This is our moment for change. Rather than telling women not to worry about violence or to stay home at night if they want to be safe, it's time to send a message that women should be equally able to live free from fear of assault or harm from those who target them simply for who they are."