TW: Sexual harassment; sexual assault; rape; death
When I was 16, I had my first experience of just how scary men could be. I am standing at Stratford station in London, trying to find the right platform for my train home. It’s late and dark outside, but the station is still busy. A man in his mid-20s starts walking beside me, smiles, and begins to ask questions. What’s my name? How old am I? Where am I going? I walk quickly to try and get away from him. It doesn’t work. None of the other commuters notice my distress. Eventually, I get on a train, knowing he’s followed me, and jump off just before the doors lock. From the platform, I can see him trying to also get off the train.
I knew men could be scary and creepy towards women. But until I was 16, I hadn’t realised just how scary. This was late. The average age girls realise this is 12. The probability of being harassed, assaulted, or even murdered by men is something all women have learned to deal with. It’s a daily fear. And women live under the constant threat of violence.
After Sarah Everard was murdered, the police unveiled a series of measures designed to make women feel safer. This included an extra £25m for better lighting and CCTV, as well as a plainclothes officer scheme for nightspots. This all sounds good. But women are not generally murdered acquaintances on the street. Rather, most women are killed in domestic homicides, either by a partner or family member.
The government also promised to tackle violence against women in law. Yet that very same government voted to reject the House of Lords amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that would have made misogyny a hate crime. It is no surprise that the government is failing to tackle violence against women when its own justice secretary thinks misogyny can be committed against a man.
How many more must die before we make real change?Yasmin Vince
Alongside this, we’ve had statements coming from far and wide about how women should better protect themselves, as though it’s our fault if we get murdered. We’re told to never leave the house alone, for example, to call a cab rather than walk. Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman did both those things and they were murdered.
We’re told to call the police if we feel unsafe, yet the police took pictures of Henry and Smallman’s bodies for their own amusement. It was a police officer who murdered Sarah Everard. And it was the police who violently abused their power when shutting down the vigil for Everard last year. Women have always known to fear men, now we know to fear the police too.
If a police officer begins to scare us on the street, we’re told to flag down a bus. Disregarding the ridiculousness of the suggestion, and the fact that we shouldn’t have to fear the police, bus drivers simply have no training in how to help someone who is being attacked. Buses are also difficult to flag down if you’re not at a stop – let alone whilst fending off a would-be attacker. For most of my 20-minute walk home, there is only one bus route. And the bus, unreliable on a good day, comes once every 30 minutes. Sabina Nessa was murdered in less than 5. Don’t tell me to flag down a bus. It won’t work.
The advice given to women has always been the same. “Women, stay home. Women, do this. Women, do that.” When will it be “Men, don’t kill. Men, don’t rape”? Some of this was seen on social media following Everard’s murder and countless posts were sent out about how we need a cultural shift in which men are taught to be less violent and to treat women as equals.
While, online, this descended into a war of hashtags – KillAllMen vs NotAllMen – it was largely ignored by those in power until earlier this month. Sadiq Khan recently announced the #HaveAWord campaign, aimed at men, designed to make them think about their actions towards women. This is the first step in tackling systemic misogyny. But the fact is that this effort is rather modest, and is being implemented years later than it should have. It’s a year too late for Everard; 22 years late for Sarah Payne, murdered at age 9 by Roy Whiting; and 47 years late for Wilma McCann and the 12 other women murdered by Peter Sutcliffe. It’s too late for the 125 women murdered since March 2021. How many more must die before we make real change?