What can we learn from the murder of Sarah Everard?
By Hannah Bullimore
Over the past few weeks Sarah Everard’s smiling face has looked out from newspaper stands and televisions as hope that she might be returned safe and well began to fade. As the news that Sarah had been murdered unfolded, many of us were left in shock. I was unable to look away from the news and spent many sleepless nights thinking about Sarah. I couldn’t help but imagine that moment that we all know so well; putting on our coat, stepping into shoes, saying goodbye, promising to text once home.
I spoke to friends, we shared experiences, the sisterhood leaned on each other.
The experience has been an emotionally draining one for many of us. Memories of past experiences have resurfaced and for many it has been difficult to know what to feel – grief, sadness, anxiety, anger.
Sarah’s death has had a huge effect on many of us and that is because we see in her our friends, our sisters, ourselves. She could have been any one of us. She was only walking home.
I felt particularly frustrated by the suggestion that Sarah should not have walked home. I cannot count the many times I’ve walked home or to a later bus stop because it’s been a nice night, I’ve wanted the fresh air, to see the stars, to just enjoy a walk in the peace of night. How can anyone suggest that is wrong? And what about those women who have no choice but to walk home? A bus may be too expensive or might not run to their homes.
While we can all acknowledge that the abduction and murder of a woman like this is rare, the reality of misogyny and sexism is not. As we all thought of Sarah, we also remembered the many times we have faced such events. My mam, my sister, my friends, we all shared stories of the times we have been catcalled, grabbed in night clubs, belittled at work. Online, the stories of abuse, assault and discrimination came in an unrelenting barrage. And all of it far too familiar to many of us.
Many women, most women, have experienced some form of prejudice simply because of their gender. We take up half the space within the population yet we face consistent inequality. If you are a woman with a brother you are less likely to reach a managerial position in your career than they are, you will earn less than him over your lifetime and that is not even mentioning the instances of harassment you might face.
Why did Sarah Everard’s murder hit so hard?
Because we recognise ourselves in her.
One evening during the week Sarah’s body was found, I bought rape alarms for myself, my sister and sister in law. It was a natural reaction to want to protect myself and those I love. But I was also aware that it should not just be women who learn from Sarah’s death. We need to have conversations with men, to ask them to stand up to friends, to not share the sexist joke, to consider women for pay rises and ask themselves about the assumptions they have about the women they know.
For anyone who has used the hashtag, ‘not all men’ – we know. Not all men would do this, not all men treat women badly. However, we do need all men to increase their awareness. To call out the sexist jokes, not just ignore them. To tell their friends to leave women alone on nights out and accept no the first time.
We need all men to step up.
On Instagram, I wrote a post expressing my feelings in the week that Sarah was found. Here are a few words from that post; ‘Not all men, they say. This is rare, they say. But it is not this one extreme act that is weighing us down. It is all the other acts of aggression, however small, that we face. If there isn’t a problem, why did we learn to cover our bodies to keep ourselves safe as teenagers? If there’s not a problem, why have so many women had to lie about having boyfriends to have their ‘no’ taken seriously? Why do we walk home with our keys between our fingers?’
Some have said the reactions online have been too dramatic. Some suggesting women were becoming hysterical – a word that has been used for decades to belittle the opinions and emotions of women. However, every single woman I have spoken to has recognised the fear and upset online. It is time our voices were heard. It is time for things to change.
Talking about Gender Inequality
While it is important we all begin to heal, none of us can move on without important conversations taking place.
Talking about our experiences can be emotionally draining and anyone who has been affected by this and is struggling to cope should seek advice from charities such as Mind who can offer support.
For those of us who feel able, there are important conversations that need to happen. Before starting any conversation, make sure to set boundaries. What are you prepared to disclose? Are there reasons why you might end the conversation?
You should not feel that you have to share any of your own personal experiences to be listened to. Instead, consider using online resources such as this article from the Guardian about the latest study finding the majority of women have experienced harassment in the UK. If you are discussing this issue with someone you don’t know well or who is particularly resistant to the conversation, having a fact-based resource can help. Not only is it factual, rather than based on your personal experiences, but you can also send over the link and leave them to read. It is not your job to educate everyone so if you prefer to share an article and hope they read it, that is more than enough.
In any conversation, always be prepared to end the discussion and walk away if you feel uncomfortable. For anyone who has experienced traumatic events, you don’t have to share them. It is important to always protect your own wellbeing.
Caring for our mental health
After International Women’s Day, the events of Sarah’s murder were perhaps even more shocking. For the trans community and women of colour, the reality is even worse as they are more likely to be affected by violence against women. While many of us wish to do something to help and to have our voices heard, we must also take care of ourselves.
I saw in the week of Sarah’s murder how quickly we can become obsessed with the media as I was refreshing the news page every few minutes and talking all but constantly to friends about what had happened. While we did offer each other support, I am also aware that too much time spent focused on these online conversations can be damaging to our mental health.
To finish this article, I want to offer some ideas as to how you can care for your mental wellbeing at this time.
Find something you can do to have a positive impact away from the internet. This might be reading books on the subject or donating to a women’s charity.
If conversations become stressful, don’t be afraid to change the subject.
Talk to friends and loved ones about your worries. If you feel low or anxious, speak to your GP. The past year has been incredibly difficult for everyone and it is always best to seek help.
Fit exercise into each day. A walk, a yoga practice, whatever movement you like will give you a boost of endorphins, lift your mood and help you to sleep.
Make time for yourself. This looks different for everyone, perhaps it’s meditation or watching your favourite show or a long hot bubble bath. Whatever will help you relax, go for it.