Until it Happens to You
The UK was recently rocked when it was announced that the remains of Sarah Everard, who initially went missing on March 3, were found in Ashford, Kent. The 33 year old marketing executive had been walking from a friend’s home in Clapham to her own home in Brixton in South London when she was abducted.
Sarah Everard’s story started a nationwide, and now, global discourse regarding the safety of women. Beginning on Twitter in the UK, millions of women shared their experiences of worrying about their safety while walking home, encouraging a global discussion about the experiences almost every woman has had.
In an article published by The Guardian in the same week, it was found that 97% of young women 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment, with 80% of women of all ages noting they had been sexually harassed in a public space.
A poll by The Tab, which asked 14,000 students in Britain whether or not they had been groped in clubs, with the results showing that 91% of women who answered noting they had experienced sexual harassment and assault.
The issue wasn’t exclusive to women, however. Overall, 82% of University scholars, both male and female, told the Consent and Sexual Assault Survey that they had experienced groping, with 61% of men noting they had experienced groping. In the study, Cardiff University was found to be the second worst university in the UK for experiencing groping on a night out, with 95% of students saying they had experienced some form of sexual harassment.
Discussions around sexual harassment and sexual assault have been circulating for years, but following the case of Sarah Everard, it feels as though there has been a global resignation that it is an issue which can no longer be swept under the carpet.
Baroness Jenny Jones argued in the House of Lords last week that perhaps there should be a 6pm curfew for men. This comment has been heavily debated online, with many noting it would be unfair to stop men from leaving their homes at night. Many women have argued, however, that despite there not being a physical curfew in place for women, women have always been encouraged to stay indoors after dark, so as to not be in any danger.
Baroness Jenny Jones later clarified that her comments were not asking for serious policy proposal, but rather pointing out that London police had advised following the case of Sarah Everard that women “not go out alone”. She told LBC that it was a concern to her as it appeared that no one seemed to “bat an eyelid” at the assumption that women ought to change their actions in order to stay safe.
Of course, walking alone is dangerous for everyone regardless of their gender. However, as we’ve seen from various surveys, women feel they are in significantly more danger when walking home alone than men.
According to data from UN Women’s Sexual Harassment Report 2021, 71% of women of all ages in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment in a public space, with this number rising to 86% among 18-24-year-olds. The MP Jess Phillips last week read the names of the women killed by men in the UK over the past 12 months. compiled by the Femicide Census; in 2020 and 2021, the list amounted to one woman every three days.
The discussion surrounding safety is one everyone should have, regardless of gender. But it’s important that we listen to the women who are expressing their concern, and we begin to change the way we address the safety of women. Men’s stories deserve a platform – but should not be used in order to diminish the stories of women; each story is valid.
Using hashtags such as #NotAllMen not only dismisses the lived experience of women and girls, but also seems as though it is invalidating the stories men have too. Why only bring up the statistics about male rape and harassment in order to counteract the stories being shared by women? Think about it – would you still share those statistics if women weren’t having this discussion? Stories from men who have faced similar experiences need to be addressed, in their own right, not as a way of invalidating stories from women; that isn’t fair to anyone.
Women and most men are aware that not all men are dangerous and not all men would do these horrible things. When we’re walking home (during the day, but especially at night) and the man behind us has been walking in the same direction for a long while, we don’t have the time to make sure he’s one of the good guys – it could cost us our lives.
We know it’s not all men, but the problem is, we don’t know which men.
The world needs to have this discussion. It may feel uncomfortable, but if we don’t have the discussion nothing will change. It’s also vital that men are part of this discussion. Men are able to tell their friends when their behaviour or the things they say are inappropriate and could stop further harassment or assault.
The discourse surrounding the safety of women is underway, and it’s important we all listen. Almost every woman has a story or an experience. A lot of men do, too. So let’s listen to them, and encourage change, so that the next generation don’t have their own stories.
by Tirion Davies