Where's Your Voice?
Social media has been full of the appalling case of Sarah Everard. Many of us recognise this violence could have happened to our sister, our daughter, our colleague or our friend.
We have spent years being taught what we, as women, should do to keep ourselves safe. As young girls, we were given advice on how to avoid attack. I remember being taught to carry a key poking out of my fist as I walk home, to sit near the bus driver, to choose brightly lit streets, never take a short cut, even cross the road if a 'dodgy' man appeared. I have been given a rape alarm. I've carried mace. Haven't yet heard of any boys receiving all this.
These are messages about personal safety that are often passed from woman to woman. They are well-intended and come from a place of care and love, but why is it still so widely accepted that it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent an attack? I never questioned this as I grew up. It's what we girls learnt. Yet I went on to experience groping in nightclubs, a man trying to get into my car then trying to stop my car, frequent sexual comments then verbal agression on nights out, even more recently, a man running at me late at night...
In the UK, one in four women will experience domestic abuse and one in five will experience sexual assault during her lifetime. The number of rape prosecutions is falling year-on-year despite a much greater rise in the number of cases being reported, according to the Rape Monitoring Group.
While we teach women to adapt their lives to keep safe, there appears to be little work being done to educate men against chauvinistic attitudes or aggressions, such as wolf-whistling, that make so many environments hostile for women. Ask your teenage girl what it is like at school. It begins young!
We really do need as a society, rather than teach women to live in fear, address the attitudes, behaviour and violence that lie at the root of it. What happened to Sarah may be a rare event but that is cold comfort.
It should not be luck that we make it home from a walk.
Thank you to Emma Burke and her heartfelt letter in the Guardian. Friday 12 March 2021