Murder after murder, when will we really feel safe?

Content warning: Rape, murder

I remember feeling devastated waking up that morning to the news of Sarah Everard’s remains being found. And stunned, to say the least, to learn that a Metropolitan Police officer from an elite unit was the suspect. It later emerged during his sentencing hearing that Wayne Couzens, then a Met officer, was very literally “hunting for a female to rape”. Using his Covid powers, police warrant card and handcuffs, he lured the victim off the street, before raping her and taking her life. A few months have passed, and sadly a similar case has once again happened in London. Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, was murdered a few minutes away from her house on September 18. She was on her way to meet a friend at a local bar, but never arrived.

This is a fear that resonates with many of us in this country and beyond – to this day, we still live in fear of some impending doom. Every news report of such crimes painfully reminds us of our own vulnerability and the horrifying randomness of these acts of violence – it could easily have been one of us . A woman dies at the hands of a man every three days, according to the Femicide Census. It’s a repeated story, far too familiar, of men killing women, be it a law enforcement officer, or an ordinary-looking man off the street, or a husband, an ex-boyfriend, a classmate… 

And really, what more can we do? Is this to say that for the sake of protecting ourselves, we, as women, can no longer leave the house at night? Have we not been acting sensibly enough? One of the largest studies of sexual harassment in Europe found that half of the 42,000 women surveyed had restricted their movement based on the fear of gender-based violence. But what is so wrong in wanting to meet a friend at a pub or making your own way home after 9pm? Why are we constantly getting told off for wearing something revealing, drinking a little beyond the limit now and again, or even flirting with some lad by the bar? It makes it seem as though it is our action that makes the difference.

Indeed, years of societal conditioning have taught us ways to protect ourselves. Our parents, teachers, and the news have nagged… But how realistic is it to avoid ever being on our own at night for the entirety of our existence? Why do we have to suffer that lingering sense of anxiety every time we exercise our basic right to walk outside alone? Why can’t we leave the house with full confidence, whenever we want, wearing whatever we want?

As a woman of colour, and especially an East Asian woman, my identity adds yet another layer of complexity to the conundrum, with racial attacks against Asians rising over the course of the pandemic. According to End the Virus of Racism, there has been a 300% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes since the March 2020 lockdown. I vividly remember how much I feared for my life this time last year, coming out of lockdown from my family home, onto campus for the first time in many months.

Back then, I felt vulnerable. It got to the point where I actively sought to change my class when I found that one of them was scheduled to end at 8pm. There has been talk among my friends of getting self-defence weapons that could be easily carried around. My parents worried about my safety, insisting that I should never head out unaccompanied, with the night falling ever so early in the winter. If I really had to, I should wear something that conceals any feminine traits. As if having a hood on to hide my hair would be my ultimate shield to potential rape, robbery or any other assault. We are constantly worried, calculating the potential hazards to which our male counterparts are largely oblivious.

Interestingly and (as it seems) almost inevitably, discussions around such topics on social media often spark numerous objections. It goes without saying that, yes, not all men. But how can we possibly know? Are we just meant to single out those ‘criminal looking’ people from an otherwise completely innocent population? How are we supposed to react when a policeman waves you down, claiming you have breached Covid rules? 

I do not wish to deliberately offend any men who feel as though they are blamed when they see women expressing their concern, feeling threatened and heartbroken over these tragedies. I have no intention to aggravate the existing gender polarisation any further because it is counter-productive. This is a systemic issue which can’t be solved without the solidarity of the entire community. 

So, please, can we stop the “not all men” debates, call off the victim-blaming, and the urge to preach the importance of protecting ourselves as women? Random occurrences of gender-based violence may be rare, but our fear is hardly unjustified when misogyny is still commonplace. As a society we need to put our heads together and come up with plausible solutions that could change our predicament. We need systemic changes, from reforming the criminal justice system down to cultivating understanding on an individual level through education, and plenty more. All of this is of course not to say that men or boys aren’t vulnerable or taken seriously as victims. I am merely saying that it is imperative we kickstart the process of uprooting this deeply entrenched misogyny. It is time we wake up from our utopian illusion and face up to the uncomfortable truth that unfortunately the remains of the patriarchy still play a big part in our society today. If we don’t speak up and do something, violence against women will always be sickeningly common knowledge. 


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