Sarah Everard was abducted and murdered as she walked home one evening last week. Her kidnapper and killer as charged, Wayne Couzens, was a serving police officer in the Metropolitan Police Force, a father of two with not an inkling of the chaos within showing upon his handsome, smiling face. He awaits his trial in a cell. During custody he has sustained two head injuries, it is easy to imagine the first injury may have been inflicted by his custodians, the second I am surmising was a self-inflicted injury. He will I am sure appreciate, there will be lots of prisoners and others already wishing him ill.
In response to this terrible crime, women around the UK organised Reclaim These Streets vigils in honour of Sarah`s memory and to demand women`s safety on our streets and one such vigil was to be arranged at Clapham Common, close to where Sarah was abducted. The Metropolitan police denied this gathering and instead told the organisers to “stay home.” Did they honestly believe women would take notice of this?
Mourners became angry after police tried to forcibly remove speakers from the bandstand at the south London park. So as thousands of women gathered at Clapham Common yesterday daytime including our future queen, Kate Duchess of Cambridge, and continued to gather into the night, they were eventually surrounded by aggressive police officers who pushed them about and manhandled them. One woman was pinned down and knelt on by four police officers. To say the women were manhandled is a misnomer since it seems there were a number of equally aggressive female officers present. Four women mourners were arrested and charged with breaches of the peace, officers clearly not recognising the strength of feeling women have about violence perpetrated by men towards women.
Home Secretary Priti Patel described footage circulating of the police’s actions as “upsetting” and confirmed she has demanded a full report on what happened. This is a huge hypocrisy on the part of the Home Secretary since separate leaked reports have already confirmed she and the government are holding secret talks in order to push through legislation making it illegal for us, the people to peacefully gather and demonstrate.
Dame Cressida Dick who is one of the UK`s most senior police officers and Commissioner for The Metropolitan Police Force described the shock and dismay felt by the Met`, when they discovered it was one of them who had been arrested. Why? The guy is a male, does the Met` think that male police officers don`t abuse women? There are calls for her resignation following the media reports from Clapham Common last night.
Men call too, for us women to understand that they aren`t safe on the streets either. It is true a man is far more likely than a woman to be assaulted with a weapon on the streets but that isn`t what this is about so please don`t make this about you. Fact is, most women are injured, raped, killed and abused at home by someone close to them. Their husband, boyfriend, a male member of the family or a close neighbour.
During lockdown one hundred and eighteen women have been killed by men. I was extremely moved to hear their names being read out in parliament last week by my MP Jess Phillips,
“Men should have a 6pm curfew imposed on them!” I hear some men and women cry. What difference might this make? Do people believe rape and abuse and violence towards women only happens during the night?
When I worked at Rape Crisis in the nineteen eighties, I quickly learned women and girls, old age pensioners and babies, are ALL in a world where violence towards females is common place and is not taken seriously. Punishments for violence towards women requires an urgent review. Only recently a man who killed his wife by battering her head head in with a claw hammer, received just six years for his crime, he was convicted of manslaughter and not murder. Less than two percent of men accused of rape are ever prosecuted. Fewer even than this small amount received custodial sentences and these statistics have not changed in many, many decades. Lots of women do not report their perpetrator`s crime so we also know that the figures are hugely underestimated.
I don`t profess to know what the answer is but I do think that educating our youngsters about respect for one another is of vital importance. When my daughter was five, she was asked where her mummy worked and she said, “A rape crisis centre.” The head teacher took me to one side and expressed her concern that my daughter used the word `rape`. In response I said that my daughter understood children were vulnerable to being hurt by adults and understood who to tell if an adult was doing something to her that made her feel uncomfortable. That`s a start but we have a long, long way to go in order to teach our males that it is they who attack women and it is their responsibility on every level, to speak up and say why this is so wrong.
My mother was just four years` old when she was sexually assaulted by one of the farm hands on the farm she grew up on. Perhaps because the sexual abuse of children was not widely talked about, if at all in those days (around 1915) she felt able to tell my grandmother what had happened and the man was subsequently arrested by the local police. I do not know if he received a sentence. By the time I grew up my mother was already giving me instructions like, “Let me know where you are going/ three rings when you get back/ do not get into an unmarked taxi/ do not go home with a man unless you want to have sex with him since that will be his assumption,” etc. etc. I still do not know how I feel about these messages I was given. Should I be grateful for her advice? Should I stand up with my sisters and protest male violence towards women? Should I have told my daughter when she was growing up that it is ok to get drunk with your mates, leave the pub alone, jump in to any car that calls itself a taxi? Because it clearly is not a good idea. and I remain unconvinced of any talked about changes to the law that will alter my viewpoint. Male violence towards women is as old as time and in order to restore balance and sanity, men must be willing to give up their power and I do not see that happening any time soon.
Sarah`s appalling death has my three teenage granddaughters talking about prison sentencing, chemical castration and the death penalty and honestly, it takes me back to the nineteen eighties when I first joined rape crisis, still severely underfunded even in these times.
I would like to be able to say that now I am heading towards seventy, it is no longer my problem but that is not the case and violence towards women is all of us – our mutual problem.