A response from imprint readers
Edited by Kate Balding and Kezia Rice
Trigger Warnings: sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape.
This article is a collation of thoughts from the imprint team and readers. All submissions were collected before the confirmation of Sarah Everard's murder this afternoon. Each response is published anonymously. The term woman refers both to woman identifying and those affected by misogyny and sexism.
From my window, I can see the road where Sarah Everard left her friend’s house near Clapham Common and began the walk home to Brixton. It’s a route I’ve walked many times before. The suspected kidnapping and murder of Sarah confirms the fears that I have long had as a woman. They are fundamental fears about physical safety that play out in my mind every time I walk home alone. How badly I wish these fears were unfounded instead of legitimate and normal.
Walking around the common now, I cannot help thinking about where the power for change lies. It's an intersectional question which I recognise stretches issue-wide. The arrested suspect is a serving member of the Metropolitan police and this fact draws unavoidable parallels to the daily abuses subjected upon people of colour by figures of authority. It gives me another reason to feel sad, tired and angry.
'I wish some men would stop appealing to their ignorance, and start appealing to what they know: 97% of women aged 18-24 report being sexually harassed.'
I wonder how the system can be changed. Whose responsibility it is to ensure everyone feels respected and safe. Fundamentally, it is everybody’s responsibility, we each have a part to play. But who has the most capacity to instigate meaningful change? I think about how important it is for men to be part of this conversation, how important it is to question the validity of ‘well-meaning ignorance’ as an excuse. I wish some men would stop appealing to their ignorance, and start appealing to what they know: 97% of women aged 18-24 report being sexually harassed. It’s a stat that could be of use.
We know not all men are bad but I wish more men chose to actively reassure us in the ways they act. I wish they used their privilege to demonstrate how little threat they pose even at times when we need no reassurance. Compared to what's at stake, compassion doesn't cost.
One last question to leave you with, before sharing the words of our audience. If women doing everything ‘right’ isn’t enough to protect them, then maybe it’s time to flip the narrative - and ask who could be doing more?
Following the publication of this article one of our imprint readers rightly pointed out that we could have done more to shine a light on the disproportionate threat of violence faced by women of colour, the LGBTQ+ community, disabled women and older women. The experience of female violence most commonly depicted in the media is white, cis-gendered and heteronormative, and this fails to honour the tragic losses of so many. Most recently we think of Bibba Henry, Nicole Smallman, Naomi Hersi, Ruth Williams, Wenjing Lin and Blessing Olusegun. All deserve our attention and all deserve equal justice. This article details organisations working to tackle violence against women of marginalised communities to which you can donate.
At first, I didn’t really think much of it as I thought that she would soon be found. However, as the days have gone by and more information is released it has made me more anxious about leaving my house alone. It’s made me reflect on all the times I’ve been walking alone in the middle of the night through dark roads and even running home just in case. But I think what’s most shocking to me is how relatable Sarah’s story is. I went to school in Clapham and have walked around those roads at all times of the day and night. So those headlines in the newspapers could have easily been about me or any of the women close to me. Since news of Sarah’s disappearance, I’ve been reluctant to go for walks past 5 pm and I’ve locked my front door every night as I live on my own. The saddest part is that it won’t be the last time a situation like this happens.
'Don’t ‘not all men’ us either because how are we supposed to know which of you will?'
The other day, I went on a walk by myself at around 1 pm. A man who was coming towards me, looking at me a little too long, changed course and started trailing behind me. We were the only people on that street. I did the standard crossing of the road every minute or so, took out my headphones, started texting so my phone would ping off a nearby phone tower and picked up the pace until I came to a corner shop. It was probably totally innocent, but the wash of cold fear that ran over me in those moments, in broad daylight is just not normal upon reflection. Don’t ‘not all men’ us either because how are we supposed to know which of you will? How can we trust that? This is drilled into us from day one, we always have to account for all men. How about ALL WOMEN feel like this? This is why the Sarah Everard case has hit home for so many women and girls, it’s exactly what we’re taught would happen. There is a long-overdue conversation to be had. It’s not the women who need the curfew.
This news makes me feel angry, sad, and... ashamed. Or, perhaps ‘ashamed’ is not the best way of describing it. Because how do you really describe that lump, which travels up and down, chest to stomach? The lump which reminds me of the times when I’ve been convinced that the skirt I wore was indeed too short, that my tone of voice was indeed too flirtatious, and that I was indeed too naive when I expected a walk home to be - in fact - just a walk home. And more, the lump which painfully represents moments when I - myself - put the blame on that skirt, that tone, that walk. Come to think of it, ‘ashamed’ might not be such a bad way of describing it after all.
'These polls always say unwanted sexual harrassment, which seems to imply the existence of wanted sexual harassment. Wanted sexual harassment is just not a thing.'
The biggest problem with female harassment is men who say but. ‘But I wouldn't do that’, ‘but I don't know anyone who'd do that’, ‘but it's just a compliment’. But negates the experience. Yes, not every man is raping and stalking women, but every man who says but is one who doesn't recognise the myriad ways in which women are harassed every day. You might not rape a woman, but you may well pursue a woman who's said no because you think it’s romantic - she thinks it’s scary. You might not stalk a woman but you might be with your mates and say ‘I'd give her one’ thinking it's funny - she thinks it's scary. You might not grope a girl in public but you might get too close in a bar or club: you think you're flirting but she's scared. These polls always say unwanted sexual harassment, which seems to imply the existence of wanted sexual harassment. Wanted sexual harassment is just not a thing.
I feel exhausted and upset. Sarah wasn't much older than me or my friends. It's heartbreaking to put yourself in her shoes and think that it could have been any of us. With International Women's Day in the backdrop, it made me feel frustrated and hurt that women are subjugated in the most simple and the most vile of ways. Having learned earlier in the day that my employer's gender pay gap is not great, in spite of the male CEO's upbeat IWD post on LinkedIn, reading about Sarah's case in the evening felt even more of an injustice. I find it difficult to explain to my boyfriend how I was feeling because it is so ingrained. It makes me feel even more helpless that I couldn't give a suggestion for what men could or should do differently. I don’t know how things could change in a meaningful way.
'Stop being surprised or disbelieving of statistics, because women sure as hell are not.'
Where do I even start? Why does it take a tragedy like this, the absolute worst-case scenario, for men to start asking what they can do to make women feel safe? Why, when I was sexually assaulted by my flatmate, was it only my female friends who challenged him? Why were some of my closest male friends sympathetic, but continue to spend time with him without saying a thing? Why do football initiations still think ‘tits or ass’ games are funny, why do I always make sure I have a portable phone charger on me, why does my Mum feel she needs to check I have a working rape alarm, why are women anxious to walk alone but also get a taxi alone at night? We need men to look at themselves and their friends, and call out bad behaviour so women don’t have to defend the legitimacy of their experiences. Catch yourself when you start to justify why your mate touched up that woman - ‘he was so wasted, he’s actually a really good guy’. Stop being surprised or disbelieving of statistics, because women sure as hell are not. Become an ally and not just a sympathetic bystander. Do better, be better, work harder and wake the fuck up.
It makes me feel tired. That some men still don’t get it - are still framing the narrative around what Sarah should have done to protect herself. It makes me feel scared that she did everything ‘right’ and this still happened. It makes me feel scared that I’ve been in less safe situations - going home in the early hours of the morning, drunk, alone, wearing clothes that slut shamers and victim blamers would suggest was an invitation. The house viewings I went to with my heart pounding in my chest, afraid to be alone in an enclosed space with a landlord I’d found on the internet. It makes me feel lucky to be alive, and that is a terrifying thought.
'We, as a sex, need to step up, listen, and learn to be ACTIVELY involved in combatting the fact that women are still told to 'get home safe.'
Quite frankly it makes me feel ashamed. Similar to Black Lives Matter, it's not good enough for men to be comfortable in the knowledge that they, as individuals, are not (knowingly) guilty of making women feel unsafe/uncomfortable. We, as a sex, need to step up, listen, and learn to be ACTIVELY involved in combatting the fact that women are still told to 'get home safe'. Speaking loudly on the phone to show your presence, crossing the street if you find you're alone following behind someone, being an active bystander in situations where you perceive someone feeling uncomfortable - no step is too big or too small if it means someone not having to walk home clutching their keys or preparing to run.
I’ve been grabbed, hit, stalked, and followed home by men: both strangers, and those I once called friends. I moved a lot, and I used to think that changing countries might somehow allow me to outrun the issue, but the U.S., Spain, France, and the U.K... all have turned out to be the same. Before I finally opened up to my GP about having been raped, I thought the scariest thing in the world was that no one would believe me. To my surprise, my GP didn’t need convincing. I had an audio recording, physical scars, and PTSD. He referred me to the police, and that was a different story.
The trauma of the police investigation was just as bad, if not worse, than anything that had come before it. I can’t describe the terror of being video recorded whilst being cross-examined about how many seconds and minutes different parts of it all lasted. ’Six minutes? You said five last time. Which was it? Five, or six? What about the look in his eyes? And how many times did you say stop? If ten times didn’t work, why didn't you keep going?’ I thought the scariest thing in the world was that no one would believe me. It wasn’t. The scariest thing is having to get up every morning knowing that whether or not people believe me doesn’t change a thing.
'If more men can really integrate in their minds what it can be like to be a woman walking by herself at night, then being an ally should come easier.'
I've been exposed to both UK and French media on International Women's Day. On the French side, I saw the backlash against it - ‘why are women still complaining, they have equality’, ‘what about men's rights, there should be a day for men’ and the usual ‘not all men’ argument. On the UK side, I see men's shock at the realisation that ALL women have been sexually harassed or felt threatened or been scared in some way. On both sides, the question is ‘how can men be better allies?’ The first step for me is acknowledging that there is a problem. If more men can really imagine what it is like to be a woman walking by herself at night, then being an ally should come easier.
The murder of Sarah Everard is tragic, horrific and unjust. It is also every woman’s worst fear. And I mean literally, every single woman – Trans women, Black women, young, old, Disabled, non-Disabled, gay women, women from other marginalised communities. Despite my cis-het, white, non-disabled privileges, I am still scared to exist in this society as a woman. I cannot begin to fully understand the added fears and threats that marginalised women face daily. Sarah was a white woman, her death made national news - if this happened to a woman from a marginalised community, would it cause the same levels of coverage and outrage?
'I remember the ‘nice guy’ from college who was casually flirting with me, but stalked me back into my dorm room and turned the lights off.'
How do we know who is not a threat? An officer, a man whose task it is to protect us, has been charged with murdering Sarah Everard. The ‘nice guys’ can be worse than every ‘bad guy’ we’ve ever come across. I remember the ‘nice guy’ from college who was casually flirting with me but stalked me back into my dorm room and turned the lights off, only to leave me alone after I screamed my lungs out at him.
I’m sick of being catcalled on the streets, and men telling me I should be flattered and to take it as a compliment. I’m sick of changing my clothes because I have to acknowledge that revealing too much might be taken as an invitation to do unspeakable things to me. I’m sick of having to change trains in Berlin because a man starts jerking off in front of me. I’m sick of having to pay for an expensive Uber instead of waiting for the metro. I’m sick of clinging onto my keys until my knuckles are white because I see a man is walking too close for comfort behind me. And I’m sick of my mother being unable to sleep when I forget to send her a good night text.
I think there are a couple of things which I try to keep in mind. I really try to make sure that my presence doesn't make women feel uncomfortable. Making sure not to walk in pace behind women, making sure not to situate myself too close to women I don't know in places like public transport. The usual things like that. Also, I try to keep an eye out for shady-looking men in public. I know women are already doing this and I don't think they should bear that entire burden. I don't want to be a white knight, but I also am aware that men can be terrible and not conscious of how they appear. I don't think women are helpless, but sometimes a misogynist will respond differently if a man calls them out. I would like to be able to be a better ally to women in that way and would love suggestions on how to help more. I actively try to be aware and want to do better.
'But as the stories of women shared in the last couple of days confirm, going outside alone has always carried trauma.'
I’m so sad and quite frankly hopeless. I can’t even imagine the level of terror Sarah Everard experienced. But as the stories of women shared in the last couple of days confirm, going outside alone has always carried trauma. I can sadly say that about 50% of times I’ve been out since lockdown I’ve been harassed. It’s been easier to count since the times I go out alone these days are few and far between. Even on the day that the updated news of Sarah Everard’s investigation broke, I went out to the corner shop and in the one-minute-long journey that was supposed to be banal, I was harassed by a man. It’s so frustrating that whilst we’re sitting here having these conversations in response to this traumatic event, there are still men continuing in ignorance at how much damage their actions can do.
My heart feels so heavy. It feels so terrible because this could have been any of us. I can count several times in my own life where I have felt frightened because men have approached me in the street or shouted at me from a van. I know so many female friends who have similar experiences and it is so unfair that we have to try and navigate the risks associated with simply being a woman. Women have to spend their nights out, moments that are meant to be fun and freeing, instead fearing for their safety, even their lives. This responsibility has to be taken away from women. It is time for men to take responsibility for the actions of other men, to call out their friend's inappropriate behaviour and to start supporting women. We all know that it isn't ALL men, but it is enough men for women to be terrified walking home at night. It is enough men for women to take the longer, better-lit route, for women to plan their escape in their mind before they begin their journey. Women should not be frightened to simply walk home.
'Rather than question the utility of our anger, how about asking us how you could best ally the woman you are questioning.'
It made me feel a sinking sadness. I then had a feeling of guilt because I have been too ashamed myself to call out misogyny and M-F harassment in the past. Now I feel heartbroken for her family and all the families that have to experience such gut-wrenching, soul-destroying grief. I feel mad that the onus of guilt and responsibility is shifted to women - so often, that now it’s an internalised feeling. Why should we feel both scared and apprehensively and retrospectively guilty to be outside after dark?
I also feel sad that because the men I have spoken to about this so far have immediately questioned the utility of women’s anger about the matter (i.e. how will that help us ally). I can’t help but get angry in these conversations because THIS IS EXHAUSTING. Rather than question the utility of our anger, how about asking us how you could best ally the woman you are questioning.
The night has always been a place I’ve felt at home. At a time when leaving the house during the day felt overwhelming, the night offered a safe haven, a way back to the world. I don’t always feel safe on my walks, but, as a woman, I don’t always feel safe during the day either. I’ve had comments shouted at me in broad daylight. A man I smiled at grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go. That was on the street outside my flat in the middle of the afternoon. People who have criticized Sarah Everard for walking home alone at night don’t grasp how pervasive sexual harassment and assault is; it’s not something you can stop by telling women to lock themselves away. Sarah was exercising the right of all women to exist in the night. It should be ours as much as anyone's.
A socially distanced vigil, ‘Reclaim These Streets,’ will take place on Clapham Common bandstand at 6 pm on Saturday. Please remember to wear a mask.