I am writing this piece on Mothering Sunday, a day where in normal times families would come together and celebrate our mums, celebrate the women in our lives, serve breakfast-in-bed, buy nice presents and cards for our mums and go out for food and drinks. Hopefully, some in this lockdown will still be able to see their mums and celebrate with them, but for the vast majority of us we will be speaking to our mums over zoom or on the phone. It’s not ideal, but after enduring this painful week it will do just to hear our mums voices.
A week that started with International Women’s Day and is ending with Mothering Sunday shouldn’t have been like this. The devastating kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer in South-West London has shook us as a society. As a man, I can feel deeply disturbed, I can empathise, I can feel lost and I can mourn Sarah’s loss as many will be doing. But I will never know what it feels like to be a woman living in the 21st century. I will never experience what many have been bravely sharing on social media this week; the harassment, the catcalls, the crossing the street, the keys in the hands, the headphones out whilst walking in the streets. I will never experience that angst, that fear, that trepidation. This is a uniquely female experience, one that has been ignored, ridiculed, explained away for too long – as this dreadful week has exposed.
The scenes at the Vigil at Clapham Common on Saturday night were honestly some of the most viscerally enraging I have ever seen. A peaceful vigil to mourn the loss of Sarah Everard, and to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ was defiled by the police, who as always can’t think beyond the need for violence. Police violence against women, at a vigil to mourn the loss of a young woman who was so violently taken from this world by a man who shared their badge and their stripes. That really is the police summed up. Shame on them. We should never forget what they did on Saturday night. And we should never forget that the police will never be the organisation and structure that will truly keep people safe, keep women safe. They have failed women time and again, and they have failed us all.
Only when we have defunded the police, divested their resources and invested in communities and public health will we able to heal and to mend. The police aren’t the answer to male violence towards women, because they are part of the problem. This goes beyond ‘bobbies on the beat’, arrests, charges and sentences. This is deeply cultural, and yes political, malaise that is embedded within our patriarchal societies.
Just remember that we live in a country where rape within marriage was practically legal until 2003. Just remember that we live in a country where only 1 in 6 sexual assaults are reported, so strong is the distrust in the police and the criminal justice system to bring perpetrators to justice. A country where on average, the police receive over 100 calls an hour relating to domestic abuse, yet between March of 2017 and 2018 only 18% of women who experienced partner abuse reported it. 90% of murderers are men. 97% of sexual offenders are men. 87% of crimes against the person are committed by men. We are dealing with a socio-political and cultural problem of systemic male violence, deep-rooted in our socialisation as men.
And so, to those who take to social media and say ‘not all men’ or ‘not me’ – you have gravely misunderstood what all this is about. Just like with ‘all lives matter’, you defer to the individual because you fail to see the institutional. You are wrong, and only when men begin to take part in the conversation, whilst also listening to women who tell their stories and reveal their truths uninterrupted and without pushback, can we begin to turn this endemic issue around, and make it safe for women to walk around in the streets of their own communities and to trust us as a society to help them when they need it.
Rest in peace Sarah. My heart goes out to her family and friends in what must be the most harrowing week for them. And my heart goes out to all those who have lost loved ones and experienced this awful violence in their day to day lives, which I know is far too many people. Solidarity and power to all those out there fighting to make the world a better place. One day, we will win.