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    Here’s what I think: Sarah Everard and women’s safety

    The murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard is a difficult but unavoidable subject to write about. Her disappearance and death sparked an outpouring of grief and anger among women all over the world, and has dominated the agenda over the last week and a half. Everard was kidnapped and murdered while on a walk in Clapham, London, by a policeman, and these circumstances were particularly aggravating for so many women.

    Here's what I think: Sarah Everard and women's safety 1
    Tom Cleaver

    The trouble, in essence, is that this is not by any means an isolated incident. Women were shocked but not surprised by Everard’s murder. According to one widely-shared poll, 97% of women report that they have been sexually assaulted at some point, and over 70% report that they have experienced sexual harassment in a public space. Almost every woman, therefore, knows what it means to be targeted and attacked in some way, and to be in danger while going about their daily lives.

    Statistics like that are shocking (and yet to so many women not surprising), and lead to a world in which women simply do not feel safe. Forgive me talking about myself for a bit, here, but I first understood this aged 16. I was walking home alone, listening to music, and minding my own business, when I noticed a woman who looked to be in her 20s walking ahead of me. I didn’t really think anything of it, but she was visibly terrified, and crossed the road and fast-walked away from me. I, of course, am not a murderer, but that is not the point. Her reaction to seeing a man anywhere near her at that time was emblematic of the fear and dread in which women live at times.

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    Rightly so, too. That 97% figure is nothing less than terrifying, when you put yourself in the shoes of a woman and imagine that being sexually assaulted at some point is almost a certainty. I cannot stress enough the terror in which I would live if I were a woman with knowledge of that statistic. If you’re a man reading this, I recommend at this point you take a minute to think about it.

    Women, of course, are well aware.  They are encouraged to not go outside alone at night, to make sure someone knows where they are, to put their keys between their fingers as a weapon just in case. They carry pepper spray in their bags, take comfortable shoes in case they need to run away from someone. They phone people in the back of taxis, just so the driver knows someone will know if they go missing.

    Over the last couple of weeks, an attempt has been made to change that narrative. After yet another death, people have decided that instead of asking women to effectively have an arms race with each other to protect themselves from predators, efforts should be made against predators themselves. Instead of forever reinforcing the culture of fear among women, maybe the culture of men should be called into question.

    Well-intentioned men have a role to play

    Before anyone jumps down my throat, yes, I know. Not all men are murderers, rapists, and predators. I’m well aware of that, as a man myself. However, the fact that 97% of women say they’ve been sexually assaulted suggests at the very least that some of us are – and far higher than most people would like to admit.

    The burden of combating this problem has been for too long borne exclusively by women, who have been forced to take extra measures such as the ones I described earlier in an attempt to keep themselves safe. Well-intentioned men to have a role to play in combating this problem, in making the world safer for women. Simply not being a threat to women is not enough – well-intentioned men must take it upon ourselves to call out “bad behaviour” when we see it, and try to stamp it out of people before they go on to become serious criminals. Whether it be something minor like a sexist comment, or a very real threat of violence, looking the other way simply will not do.

    Aside from that, the solution is and always will be education. Consent is taught at schools these days, but is it being done enough? 97% of women would probably say no. I don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say that this sort of thing needs to be drilled into children, in order to avoid the current situation perpetuating. For adults, too, the message must be clear, and Government PSAs should be utilised in order to drive the message home. They’ve been used for all sorts of comparatively useless things over the years, and this particular subject is a matter of life and death for far too many people.

    In short, it’s time society, and its men, took a look at ourselves. Too many women have for far too long been deprived of something that men take for granted – feeling safe. That must change, and there is no better time than now for it to do so.

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