On the 3rd of March, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was walking home from her friend’s house in Clapham at 9pm on a journey that should have only taken about 50 minutes, but she never made it home. Cases like this, involving kidnapping and murder, are what women often fear the most when we find ourselves walking alone at night, and Sarah is a tragic, unfortunate reminder that we don’t fear these situations happening for no reason. It’s scarily easy for us to see ourselves in her shoes.
Perhaps the most important thing for us to understand from this is that precautions don’t mean we will get home safely. Women grow up holding our keys at the ready, faking phone calls if we’re walking past a man, walking in the middle of the road, making sure our route is well-lit or a main road, sharing our location with friends, texting them when we get home safe, being given rape alarms, not listening to music too loudly (or at all), and constantly checking over our shoulder. But what good does it do us? Because Sarah took a main road and wore bright clothing, and she still didn’t make it home. These precautions are useful, sure, and I’ll still use some of them if I’m walking alone at night- but is it the precautions that keep us safe, or is it just lucky timing? A woman could have taken every single one of these precautions and, due to the fact that she was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, those precautions could have meant absolutely nothing. Or they could have kept her safe, but the next woman who passed would have been the victim.
The problem with asking ‘why was she out in the dark alone?’ or ‘why did she take that road?’ is that, firstly, the only person to blame in any situation like this is the perpetrator, and, secondly, taking these precautions clearly don’t stop anyone from being attacked. People live in places where they have to go down alleys, or where the streetlights don’t work, or with phones that have run out of charge after a night out. They should still be guaranteed to get home safely. Safety is not a privilege you earn for checking a few boxes on the ‘precaution checklist’ before you step outside: it is a basic right.
Learning about this case a few days ago, I was overwhelmed by the level of victim blaming I saw on social media. One tweet argued that if it was dark, she should have known better than walking alone- and many other tweets I saw using #SarahEverard echoed this sentiment. A man on Facebook said that part of the route Sarah took was known for being ‘dodgy’, so it wasn’t a huge shock. The problem here (apart from the obvious victim blaming) is just how unsurprised many people were that this kidnapping had taken place. It seems like people read ‘night’, ‘alone’, and ‘woman’ and those three words become synonymous with an attack. I can’t believe that in 2021, women still have to defend their right to walk home; on March 3rd, the sunset was at 5:42pm in the afternoon- are women’s only options to either stay home as soon as it’s dark out, or be forced to accept that they might get attacked from the moment they step outside? What sort of life would that be?
Unfortunately, as with anything related to women’s safety, #notallmen began trending barely a few hours after the story broke, in response to women sharing their own stories of being wary of all men when they are walking alone in the dark. “I would never do this to a woman!” men proudly exclaimed in their tweets, as some bizarre need to boast of doing the absolute bare minimum for being a decent human. The thing is, we know it isn’t all men. But if a woman is walking alone and sees a man coming towards her, how is she supposed to know who’s a good guy and who’s a bad guy? Is there a special “I’m not going to kidnap you” badge? I think I speak for most women when I say I’d rather have a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ attitude and make it home safely, then ignore everything we grow up being taught and getting attacked. A few tips that were given to men were to cross the road so you aren’t walking directly behind a woman/heading directly towards her, making noise if you are behind her so she knows where you are and that you aren’t trying to be sneaky, and if you see something happening that could potentially put the woman in danger, do something to help! Something as simple as shouting “hey, Jess, is that you?” could scare off a potential attacker and give the woman an opportunity to get away from him.
I hope that conversations about Sarah’s case highlight just how big the issues of victim blaming are in situations like this, and start meaningful steps towards changing this attitude. No amount of precautions can promise safety, and the only person to blame is the attacker; women just want to walk home.