From the moment women can walk and speak, we are immediately taught to protect ourselves. First, we are taught not to talk to strangers, especially men we don’t know. Next, we are taught to avoid walking at night, or alone in general—much less with headphones in or wearing revealing clothing. It’s best we have a male with us, and if not, it’s second best to keep one on the phone. Pepper spray or a knife might just cut it, but in the end, we should always assume our attacker can overpower us.
Sarah Everard, a 33 year-old British woman, had followed all of these self-defense rules. She left her friend’s house late in the evening in her bright outfit—a neon green windbreaker and diamond-patterned slacks—worn to avoid going unseen in an instance of danger. She spoke on the phone with her boyfriend for 15 minutes on her long, 50-minute route home, which was well-lit and bustling with people. She wore a hat and a modest clothes to avoid any predatory gazes. And after all of the prevention and safety precautions she went through, her remains were still found in the woodland days after her disappearance.
A UK police officer was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering a London woman who disappeared while walking home.#SarahEverard was 33.
Human remains have been found in the search. The case has sparked outcry: "We should not feel afraid to walk the streets." pic.twitter.com/DizGKwM90C
— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 11, 2021
After she was last seen on March 3rd and hadn’t returned home, Everard was reported missing. The search went on for over a week until remains were found in the woods in Kent, which would be identified as the young woman just days later. A suspect was quickly charged with murder after being taken into custody days prior to her body’s discovery. Wayne Couzens, a former officer, is now charged with Everard’s murder, as well as another charge of indecent exposure.
Women across the nation, and soon, across the world after widespread media coverage, were horrified and enraged by the crime. Many women see themselves in Everard, walking home every night taking extra precautions and avoiding danger on their route home. It came as a shock to see such methods prove faulty in her case. Because if it can happen to her, why not any of us?
We Are All Sarah
Whether you’re in a busy urban setting walking home from your workplace, or taking a nice evening stroll through your rural town, if you’re a woman, you are always on high alert. Whether we know it or not, we are always looking over our shoulder and checking for threatening silhouettes or a creeping car approaching us. We might not actively think about protecting ourselves, but it is simply in our nature.
What happened to Everard is one of our worst fears as women. It’s not just because of how upsetting or gruesome the crime was. It’s because we have all been in similar situations before, in which we are fearing for our lives, but managed to escape. The circumstances of her death have caused many of us to reflect back on our lives, seeing ourselves in Sarah.
Sarah Everard was murdered by a cop. https://t.co/e5DFy4Io1F
— feminist next door (@emrazz) March 16, 2021
I have been Sarah, targeted on an afternoon walk in broad daylight by a man in his car at the age of 13. I have been Sarah, holding my keys between my knuckles as I pump gas into my car. I have been Sarah, taught to fear predators my whole life; in fact, I have been her more times than I can count, but unlike her, I had good luck.
But after seeing her go through every precaution and still being slain, it makes me wonder how close I am to becoming the next martyred female figure. It makes me, and all women alike, wonder if we weren’t luck after all, but rather if we were just spared instead.
Who Is Going To Keep Us Safe?
The man who lured Sarah Everard and took her life was formerly a police officer. The people who supposedly claim to protect us keep tending to do quite the opposite. It’s been evident after years of extensive brutality and abuse of power, but once again in the case of Everard’s murder.
A badge, to many of the average public, is a sign to submit to authority. A uniform can give someone a platform of innumerable powers, not all being used for the wellbeing of others. Couzens was an actively serving police officer with an issued gun. The circumstances of Everard’s actual disappearance are murky, but we can assume the uniform and gun gave him some credibility and, of course, undeniable power in the situation.
If only @metpoliceuk had put this amount of effort into arresting one of their own for indecent exposure four days before he went on to allegedly kidnap and kill a woman who was just walking home. #SarahEverard pic.twitter.com/1LWpS2zlFo
— Gemma Chan (@gemma_chan) March 13, 2021
While serving his duty to protect the British people from danger, he took Sarah Everard’s life in a heinous, manipulative manner. The police—Couzens—not only stamped out Everard’s life, but his former counterparts did the same to her memory too, quite literally. Officers violently broke up a London vigil held in Everard’s memory and made arrests, most of them mourning women. They faced international criticism for this move, similarly to when U.S. police broke up Black Likes Matter protests.
Police not only fail to protect, rather harming, citizens, then show up to the mourning and protest sites to cause more violence, it’s clear there’s a problem. How can we trust these officers to keep us safe if they can’t keep their hands off us—not just us as women, but everyone? If they can’t keep us safe—keep Sarah Everard alive instead of taking her life—who can we trust?
Everyday that women try walking down the street, we could be Sarah. Every time a man thinks twice about turning around in his car, we could be Sarah. For every officer that abuses their power, we could be, and are, Sarah.
Photo: Gerry Popplestone