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WORLD | 12-03-2021 12:58

Women hit back at safety advice after London disappearance of Sarah Everard

Women hit back at safety advice from authorities after 33-year-old Sarah Everard disappeared when walking home through South London on March 3. A serving Metropolitan Police officer from the elite diplomatic protection unit has been arrested on suspicion of her kidnap and murder.

The case of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman who disappeared while walking home in London, has prompted women in Britain to voice anger at facing habitual intimidation and harassment.

The 33-year-old marketing executive went missing on March 3, while walking a route through south London that should have taken less than an hour.

She was last captured on security cameras at around 9:30 pm. 

Police warnings during the investigation to women in the area to be careful and not go out alone, however, have caused anger.

Many resented the implication that women are somehow responsible for preventing attacks by men.

The high-profile case has increasingly made headlines, all the more so as a man arrested on suspicion of kidnap and murder is a serving Metropolitan Police officer from the elite diplomatic protection unit.

Human remains have since been found in Kent, southeast England.



Many women said they identified with the case and had developed similar strategies for walking alone after dark.

"What happened to Sarah Everard has hit home hard for so many women because we make the calculations she did every day too," wrote Kate McCann, a Sky News political correspondent, in a tweet liked more than 89,000 times.

"We take the longer, better-lit route, push the fear aside for the voice that says 'don't be daft, you've every right to walk home alone at night and be safe'."

The head of London's Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, sought to reassure women by saying it is "thankfully incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets."

But she acknowledged that women, particularly those living in the area where Everard was last seen, "may well be feeling scared". 

Everard's case should not overshadow how much predatory and violent behaviour women face on a daily basis, female activists and politicians said.


'Not a rare crime ' 

"The reality is that it's not a rare crime," Jess Phillips, who worked with victims of domestic violence before becoming an MP, told BBC radio on Thursday.

"Since last week, since Sarah first went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men."

Almost all UK women have been sexually harassed, a poll commissioned by UN Women UK found, putting the figure at 97 percent for women between the ages of 18 and 24.

This comes as women are also at greater risk of violent attacks from domestic abusers while confined by lockdowns.

"This is a human rights crisis," warned UN Women UK's executive director Claire Barnett in a comment to The Guardian newspaper. 

"It's just not enough for us to keep saying 'this is too difficult a problem for us to solve' — it needs addressing now."

The implications of police warnings that Everard was somehow doing something wrong and that it is up to women to prevent male attacks by controlling their behaviour angered many.

"We're not getting to the root of the problem... instead we are being forced to change our behaviour," Maya Tutton, founder of campaign group "Our Streets Now", told the BBC.


'Keep safe' 

"This thing about women not going out in the dark to 'keep safe'. I was once flashed at 9:00 am," tweeted Julie Bindel, the co-founder of a group helping women prosecuted for killing violent male partners.

Women questioned why they are expected to follow cautious routines after dark such as holding keys and walking in the middle of the road, while men are not expected to modify their behaviour.

A man living near where Everard disappeared, Stuart Edwards, won praise for a tweet asking what men should do "to reduce the anxiety/spook factor" for a woman out alone.

Many called this refreshing and answered with tips such as chatting loudly on a phone, overtaking or taking the other side of a road.

"Nearly 2 mil people have viewed this tweet now, so hopefully a lot of those guys will have had a chance to get a bit of insight," Edwards wrote in an update.

Women plan to hold a vigil for Everard on Saturday at Clapham Common, a park in south London that she was planning to walk through when she disappeared.



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by Anna Malpas & Pauline Froissart, AFP


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