I wonder how many times you have uttered these words or had them said to you. More than we (womxn and those who identify as womxn) would care to count. If I were to ask my (cis) male friends I’d feel pretty confident in saying they will have rarely, if ever, said these words to one another.
When it comes to our safety from others there is nothing we can do to keep ourselves safe. Sarah Everard was walking home. She was walking home. And yet people are still asking the question ‘why was she walking home at 9 at night?’ Why aren’t they asking, ‘why shouldn’t she be walking home at 9 at night?’
Womxn are being given even more tips and tactics as to how we can keep ourselves safe, something that we have most likely all been brought up with. And yet no one is turning the spotlight back onto the perpetrators, what are they doing to understand why they stalk, intimidate, grope, grab, attack womxn and what are they doing to stop themselves.
These are deep rooted issues that mean womxn are endlessly abused, beaten, raped, murdered by men. The statistics never seem to change and never seem to improve, in March 2021 the WHO reported that 1 in 3 women globally experience violence. The pandemic has only exacerbated this issue and the statistic isn’t truly representative as the true numbers of sexual violence isn’t accounted for due to the stigma surrounding it. If I go by my personal experience the statistic resonates even further.
We need to look at the psychology and understand that yes it is ‘not all men’, however the patriarchal society that we live in is the root of this psychology. Until men and womxn are treated as equal human counterparts, men won’t be brought up with any pre-conceived notions that make them believe they are always in the position of power and privilege.
The systems in place are flawed, the narrative is flawed and until these are fixed, we will still be talking about this long after myself and my generation are gone. I can’t help but think back to the time of the Yorkshire Ripper and the start of the Reclaim the Night movement. Remembering the protests surrounding what took place, not a lot has changed in 34 years.
When the vigil on Clapham Common for Sarah Everard was cancelled on Saturday a big message was sent and that message was received loud and clear. The push back from police, both figuratively and literally, caused what should have been a peaceful dedication to Sarah to become a passionate protest. But again, I ask why? Why didn’t they let it take place when so many other protests have taken place during the pandemic? Why did they move in when the sun went down and the light had gone? Freedom of speech and the right to protest peacefully are protected by both the common law and the Human Rights Act 1998 and yet that’s not what we saw on Saturday 13th March.
The conversations need to go far deeper than victim blaming, which is still the go to when anything tragic happens. To make things worse this is still the message used for police campaigns and propaganda. Just take a look at this campaign by West Yorkshire Police from 2019 (yes 2019), sums it up really.
The conversations need to highlight that no it isn’t just the one bad egg in the system it is the system itself and those who allow the system to continue as it is. Those who allow womxn, people of colour and the LGBTQ+ community to be failed time and time again. So the next time you hear someone say why ‘was she walking home at night?’ Ask them ‘why shouldn’t she?’
If you want to and can help, you can donate and support the below charities:
London Black Women’s Project
Southall Black Sisters
Young Women’s Trust
The Fawcett Society