Murder of British women leads to debate on street safety

33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared without a trace on the night of March 3. Last Wednesday, her body was found in a forest. Her death flares up the debate on violence against women in the United Kingdom, especially because the arrested suspect is a police officer.

โ€œIf I walk down the street late at night alone and I hear footsteps from a man behind me, even after all these years I automatically cross the road,โ€ wrote MP Diane Abbott on Twitter, one of the many women who shared her experiences under #SarahEverard. โ€œWe shouldn‘t have to behave like this.โ€

โ€œKidnapping and murder by a stranger are infrequent, but aggressively followed by a man is,โ€ added actress Katy Brand. โ€œMany of us have been afraid so many times.โ€

Many women recognized themselves in Everard’s story. She walked home alone in London at night after a visit to a friend, an hour‘s walk. Around 9:30, she was still filmed by a video doorbell near her house, but after that, every trace was missing.

The disappearance case held the British in his grip for days. The latest images of Everard and BOLs were often passed by in newspapers, on TV and the Internet.

Two days ago, a body was found in County Kent, an hour and a half from where Everard disappeared. Although no official identification has yet been made, her family assumes that it is the missing woman.

The day before, police had raided a 48-year-old suspect from the coastal town of Deal. It turned out to be a police officer, a member of the team that secures the parliament buildings, embassies and the Prime Minister’s office residence. It‘s not clear if he knew Everard.

โ€œOn behalf of all colleagues, I can say that we are totally bewildered by this horrible news,โ€ said Cressida Dick, head of the London Police. โ€œFortunately, it’s not common for a woman to be abducted on the street.โ€

Despite the Commissioner‘s assurance, many women reacted that Everard’s fate is also their nightmare. Many shared with the courage of despair tips they have made for their safety: keys between your fingers like improvised punching braces, flat shoes to run away if necessary, headphones to listen better, always looking over your shoulder.

โ€œIn 2021, I still have a curfew at 45,โ€ says Times-columnist Caitlin Moran. โ€œMy day outside ends when the sun goes down. If I haven‘t walked or jog the dog by then, I can’t do it anymore. Today I had to stop working at 16:00 to be able to play sports.โ€

โ€œIt makes such an impression because every woman can identify herself with this,โ€ replied Minister of the Interior Patel. โ€œEvery woman must be able to take the streets without fear, intimidation or violence.โ€

Reclaim the Night

There was also criticism of the police advice during the search for Everard, that women should not go outside alone in the evening. โ€œWe are furious that women are expected to adapt our behaviour to stay safe. Women are not the problem,โ€ says activist Anna Birley.

Birley is one of the organizers of a Reclaim the Night march in memory of Everard, a demonstration on Saturday where she disappeared. โ€œThis is a vigil for Sarah, but also for all women who feel unsafe,โ€ is the call. โ€œThe streets must be safe for women, no matter what they wear, wherever they live, be it day or night.โ€

The organizers emphasise that women and men are welcome to the march. Others also emphasise that men have a role to play in this debate.

โ€œIt is not difficult to find examples of woman-friendly behavior in everyday life. Everyone, especially men, has to say something about that,โ€ says Charlotte Kneer of a stay-of-my house. โ€œThe reaction of men should not be ‘not all men are like this’, but ‘I will do everything to stop it’.โ€