She Was Only Walking Home

Sarah Everard was walking home alone at night from a friend’s house in South London when she was suddenly taken away without a trace. Human remains were found days after, and an officer was arrested on suspicion of murder.

A survey from UN Women UK found that 97% of women aged 18 to 24 in the UK had been sexually harassed.

New analysis by the World Health Organization revealed that one in three women globally (around 736 million) have been subjected to physical or sexual violence in their lifetimes.

All of this happened in March, the same month that International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month take place.

Sarah Everard could have been any woman, any woman taking a simple walk, which is why her story and absence was met with an outpour of vulnerability. Women of all identities shared their experiences with sexual assault and harassment, opened up about their trauma, and admitted that they don’t feel safe in public spaces. For every woman who publicly shared a story, there will be countless others who can’t.

Sarah Everard’s story revealed the worst fear for many women. For the women who carry their keys between their fingers, for the women who send their family or friends the license plate before getting in their Uber, for the women who call someone when they’re alone, Everard’s death was a reminder that no matter what women do to protect themselves, it won’t help. Because the issue isn’t what women are doing.

Then, the hashtag #NotAllMen began to trend. It was filled with men pointing out the relatively small proportion of men who are violent attackers, men taking the movement as a personal attack, and men accusing women of over exaggerating. Men who are missing the point.

Calling someone so that they’re not ‘alone’.

Putting headphones in, but there’s no music playing.

Picking up a dress, but leaving the house in sweatpants instead.

Walking the long way home at night because there are more lights.

Wondering if the Uber they’re riding home in is safe.

Stepping onto a bus with no seats left, only to step off and wait for the next one.

Consciously and unconsciously worrying, what if

Women know it’s not “all men,” but how do they know which ones it is?

This is why women limit their lives to stay “safe”.

And it is exhausting.

Violence against women is normalised to the point where, from a young age, women are constantly reminded of what one incorrect decision could do to them. They remember every worst-case scenario. They are told to modify their behaviour, to cover up, and to take precautions. It goes all the way back to when they were young, from being told that their shoulders are too distracting to being told that when somebody bullies them, it means they’re just interested.

Women and girls are told that “boys will be boys,” and because of this, there are certain things they’re “supposed to do” to stay safe.

Yet women push on. Why? Because if they did everything they were “supposed to do,” they would have no freedom. But they know that they can’t always protect themselves and that those who are “supposed” to protect them constantly fail at doing so. That is why they can’t stop thinking about women like Sarah Everard, why it doesn’t matter that it’s not “all men.”

The problem is that violence against women is normal; it’s part of the fabric of our society. And until we change our victim-blaming mindset, until we stop purposefully misunderstanding and silencing women, until we stop telling women that they’re overexaggerating, it will remain so.

No, it is not all men that commit such horrific crimes. However, the normalised behaviour of telling women that they’re “blowing things out of proportion” and then silencing them, is clearly not uncommon. The normalised behaviour of women telling each other to “text me when you get home,” instead of leaving it at goodbye, is clearly not uncommon.

We must acknowledge that public spaces are not designed with women in mind, that there is little consideration for women as mothers, workers, or carers.

We need truly intersectional and inclusive conversations about safety. A child is reported missing every two minutes in the UK. These missing children are more likely to be girls, and those girls are disproportionately Black, Asian, or from minority ethnic groups. When we do not advocate for those most at risk, namely women of colour, low-income women, and transgender and non-binary folks, we all remain unsafe.

We need to rebuild systems, whether it’s the police, the criminal justice system, or our education system, which do not accept these experiences of harassment and violence rooted in sexism.

We need a world where women can live without harassment, where women are not trying to suppress their fears or downplay their experiences to go about their day-to-day lives.

Where women can walk home.


Cover photo:

Edited by Michelle Nishidera & Tyler Vu

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