Just days after International Women’s Day, women in the UK have been faced with a horrible reminder that they still face serious risks to their safety while going about daily life.
There has been an outpouring of dismay after the police opened a murder inquiry on March 10 following the disappearance of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was last seen on March 3, walking home from a friend's house at 9 p.m. in Clapham, south London.
Full details of the case have yet to be confirmed, but the news has sent shockwaves throughout the country.
As they tried to piece together what happened, the Metropolitan Police (London's police force) warned women in the Clapham area not to walk alone.
The call prompted outrage that, as usual, women are being called upon to make changes to their behaviour for personal safety, while men face no restrictions or calls to modify their behaviour.
In 2020, psychologists at the University of California San Diego conducted five separate studies that concluded that sexual assault prevention advice that tells women how to behave and dress leads to an increase in victim-blaming — and shifts perceived responsibility away from male perpetrators of assault.
Instead, many women on social media have offered plenty of suggestions for how men can help women feel safer as they go about their lives and how they can take a more active role in shutting down street harrassment.
Many women have also pointed out that they have experienced attacks and street harrassment despite taking all the suggested precautions to be safe.
If I see one more comment on Sarah Everard making a "poor decision" to walk home alone at night, I might scream. I was attacked in broad daylight on a bright sunny morning, yards from my front door. Stop focusing on women's choices and start focusing on the men that attack us.— Georgia O'Brien (@georgiacobrien) March 10, 2021
Joining in, a man called Stuart Edwards, who says he lives in the area Everard went missing, posted a Tweet to ask what men could do. It was the start of a long conversation and his post was retweeted almost 3,000 times.
I live less than five minutes from where Sarah Everard went missing. Everyone is on high alert. Aside from giving as much space as possible on quieter streets and keeping face visible, is there anything else men can reasonably do to reduce the anxiety/spook factor?— Stuart Edwards (@StuartEdwards) March 9, 2021
Lots of people suggested that a really simple thing men can do is never walk closely behind women, and cross the road if needs be, so that she doesn't get the impression she is being followed.
This is an excellent question and I wish more men would ask it. Cross the street to avoid walking behind a woman. Give all women space. Never run close to them when jogging, esp in the dark - I'm endlessly astonished at how many men do this. Offer to walk female friends home.— Fiona Sturges (@FionaSturges) March 10, 2021
If you're walking behind a woman, even at a distance, and it's dark, cross over to the other side of the road and walk there instead.— Hannah Al-Othman 📝🗞 (@HannahAlOthman) March 10, 2021
I've had men do this a couple of times and it's like a huge weight lifted.
Other suggestions included how to behave when out running. Many women said it was important not to closely overtake female joggers who might be startled, but instead give hanging back, giving lots of space, or give warning you are overtaking.
Anything like that to reassure you’re not focusing on following her.— Sophie Petzal (@Sonic_Screwup) March 10, 2021
Reminds me of one time I was walking - headphones in - and a male jogger came past me so closely and I SHRIEKED and he SHRIEKED and then was like ‘OMGIMSOSORRYITHOUGHTYOUCOULDHEARME’ 🤣.
Others suggested that it was helpful if men could take more of a role as "active bystanders" and be conscious of, and if possible interrupt, when a woman is being harrassed in public.
The fact that you’re aware & asking this is fantastic. Talk to other men about it, as many are oblivious. If you witness even low-key harassment, call it out. Everyone pretends not to notice the creeps making women uncomfortable. It only emboldens them & normalises the behaviour.— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) March 10, 2021
It is worse during lockdown. Offer female friends to take evening walks so darkness doesn’t feel like a prison. If walking down the street actively intervene if something looks odd or someone looks scared, even just shouting “Hey Jane is that you?” might diffuse something.— Emma Beals (@ejbeals) March 10, 2021
As well as being aware of your own actions, I think we shld all notice what’s going on around us- is there a woman walking on her own & a man following her? A man talking to a woman who looks distressed or uncomfortable? Someone who looks vulnerable, walking unsteadily etc?— Christina Hinds (@evoc_Christina) March 10, 2021
You can read the whole thread — which is full of useful suggestions — here.
On Thursday, March 11, over 200 women who work in politics, including MPs, local councillors, and parliamentary staff, signed an open letter published in the i newspaper, calling for more action from politicians to protect women from violence. "We must see a firm commitment from our politicians, from our police force, and from our male peers," the letter stated.
A socially-distanced vigil for Sarah Everard, and "for all women threatened on our streets" has been organised by a campaign group called Reclaim These Streets and will take place at 6 p.m., Saturday March 13 on Clapham Common in London.