When the story of Sarah Everard’s passing broke, I could physically feel my heart sink and my stomach turn. She was a 33-year-old marketing executive making her way home from a friend’s house in London and doing everything a woman is supposed to do when they’re traveling alone late at night: She called her boyfriend and friend to let them know her whereabouts, she covered up with bright colored clothing and tried to stay in well-lit areas. She took the precautions that are taught to most women early in life and still ended up a tragic headline in the news.
On March 10, Everard’s remains were found in a wooded area of Ashford in a builder’s bag after being reported missing for 7 days. The suspect behind the murder is a Metropolitan Police Officer Wayne Couzens, with a track record of being arrested for kidnapping and indecent exposure days earlier from Everard’s disappearance. I cannot help but wonder why he was allowed to continue to work despite this complaint. What is worse about this is his job is to protect and serve; can you blame women for the outrage they are experiencing over this?
If that wasn’t enough to cause me to spiral, the U.N. Women U.K.released a surveylast monthwhich displayed a hideous reality: 97%of women aged 18 to 24 that live in the U.K. have been sexually harassed; 80%said they experienced sexual harassment in public spaces.
Growing up I was never allowed to walk home. It was only a 15– to 20-minute walk but my mother never wanted me to walk home from school. I never understood why but, as I grew up, I realized that this is the world we live in.
Women are taught as girls to be aware of their surroundings; if a man was walking on the same side of the road as me, I would consciously cross the street to keep my distance. If I did have to walk anywhere, I was taught to not put both earphones in; I left one out and would listen to make sure no car or person was trailing right behind me.
When I was old enough to drink, I was taught not to leave my drink unattended and not to accept drinks from strangers. I was also given my first ever weapon: pepper spray. I was 21 and had no idea how to even use it, but still carried it with me when I stayed out late because that was what I was taught to do.
It dawned on me at a very early age that as a woman, I have to adjust my behaviors and apparel to not cause attention to myself. At the time this felt completely normal.
Now, as an adult, I’m disgusted. I’m sickened by the people on social media platforms talking about this tragic incident, or any other stories like it, saying, “Not all men do this,” and “She should not have worn that if she did not want attention.” This mentality is dangerous and needs to be eliminated as a valid justification to downplay any story like Everard’s.
Many stories like Everard’s are belittled by the assumption that a woman’s clothing conveys consent. Clothing does not warrant sexual harassment – ever. There is no arguing this as it is common sense. It is a form of expression and instead of embracing it, women have been silenced by having to cover up a “provocative outfit” that could very well be a way to communicate character.
This practice is instilled in us since puberty. I would get dress coded in school almost every day if my shirt hiked up just a little bit, if my shorts did not reach my fingertips or if I wore ripped jeans. They would refer to it as “distracting to the school environment.” That excuse, to me, is similar to what people mean when they say that a girl was asking for it if she’s wearing a miniskirt or a tank top. If my clothes are distracting to you, then maybe you need to ask yourself why that is. I should not have to be afraid of drawing unwanted attention if I wear a certain clothing item. We are people and not animals; learn discipline and grow up.
The justification that not all men harass women is a given. In no way has anyone ever said this, and if you think this and are offended by the outrage that the world is feeling right now about this situation, you are part of the problem. Not all men are out in the world doing this, but those that are make women wary of all men. Instead of dismissing it, we should be addressing it.
Everard took all the necessary precautions that I was taught, and a man still invaded her sense of security in the world.
Why are women expected to adjust our behavior to fit into society, but men are not expected to do the same?
It’s time to start having this conversation for this generation that is bringing in the next one. Educate them and make them more conscious of the world around them and how to make the world a little safer: Read body language, respect people’s personal space and read the environment. If we paid more attention to these simple clues, it would make a world of difference.
Do not let Everard become just another statistic to the 97%. She is the call to action.