Women’s relationship with the night has often been a tug-of-war between occupying a space we have every right to and the anxiety of finding ourselves on the wrong street corner at the wrong time. Nothing brought this into sharper focus than the murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021.
Since then, at least 81 women in the UK have been killed in incidents where the suspect is a man. Statistically speaking, gender-based crime is more likely to happen at home, perpetrated by a partner or someone close to the victim. But as the wintry darkness sets in, many of us have clutched our keys even tighter and found different paths to take home, saddled with the responsibility of safeguarding ourselves on the street against strangers.
According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, around 50 per cent of crime happens in the dark. As of August 2021, the same number of women reportedly don’t feel safe walking alone after nightfall. In London, where the night tube service has been curtailed due to the pandemic, demand for Ubers has soared in recent months, leaving many people stranded after-hours. A petition to reinstate the underground service garnered more than 155,000 signatures in October, which pushed mayor Sadiq Khan to announce that the late-night Victoria and Central lines would reopen in November. But that’s only two lines in one city and the plans have been derailed by TfL worker’s strikes. With more strike action planned throughout December, it’s currently unclear when the night tube services will return.
Following Everard’s death, police, with whom distrust is arguably at an all-time high, once again urged women not to go out alone. Living our lives confined to the four walls of our homes (especially after a pandemic), potentially doomed to a lifetime of being chaperoned, is not a practical – nor, frankly, acceptable – solution to this tide of repetitive violence. Every few years, a murder is committed that makes national headlines. The discourse then renews itself without much progress, and the onus remains on women to look after ourselves or be looked after by a man.
Everything was stolen from Sarah Everard, as it was stolen from Sabina Nessa, Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman and all the others whose lives were taken too soon at the hands of a man. But by looking to each other for protection and participating through direct, transformative action, we can claim back what we’re owed: our lives and the night.