It’s painstakingly sad that it has taken the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard to highlight the sexual harassment and misogyny faced by women every day in the UK. It’s horrifying to think that it has taken this for us to question why it is so ingrained, as women and marginalised genders, to have a “safety-mode” switched on at all times – whether that’s the decision to never wear headphones when walking alone in the dark, or the mandatory “text me when you get home” exchange between friends at the end of nights out.
Every woman that I’ve spoken to this week has an experience they can share, myself included. And the worst part? How normalised it is for us to modify our behaviour to avoid being objectified or attacked, how often we internalise (and do not report) these incidents as a coping mechanism, and how rarely these stories are taken seriously when reported.
Like so many others I’ve found this week to be emotional and intense, and my thoughts go out to Sarah Everard’s friends and family. I can’t even begin to imagine what they are feeling right now.
This brings me to Saturday’s vigil (note: this was not a protest) led by Sisters Uncut and at which the Metropolitan Police, having failed to work with organisers, Reclaim These Streets, abused their power causing further distress.
Waking up on Mother’s Day, a day the majority of us are spending separated from our closest family members, to photographs documenting the insensitive and inappropriate way that the Met handled the peaceful event fills me with both anger and sadness. And we must remember that unnecessary violence by police at peaceful protests is nothing new – something the policing of the Black Lives Matter protests last year, and the ongoing treatment of Black communities can attest to.
Today, MPs will debate a Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill that will hand more powers to the police and home secretary, Priti Patel – a move thought to be a reaction to recent Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests. Within the 300 page report is legislation that will give the police the authority to “tackle non-violent protests that have a significant disruptive effect”. The right to protest is a human right that Patel is doing her best to curb (click here to sign NETPOL’s petition to protect it).
This week has highlighted the grave need for society to be anti-misogynistic, anti-toxic masculinity and anti-harassment. It is quite simply not enough to state that “not all men” pose danger to women.
Just four days ago, a YouGov poll revealed that 97 per cent of women aged between 18 – 24 have been sexually harassed. Ninety-six per cent of the respondents admitted to not reporting incidents for fear it would not change anything. Speaking in The Guardian, Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK, said that many women do not see being groped, followed or coerced into sexual activity as serious enough incidents to report. It goes without saying that this is in no way okay.
In the name of progress, here are some very straight forward thoughts to be considered in everyday life.
Not all men call out toxic masculinity.
Not all men call out sexual harassment within their friendship group.
Not all men respect the word no.
And to the women who have found the last 10 days increasingly hard to handle and found the strength to share their personal stories – we must keep up the fight.