Hundreds of people converged on Clapham Common in south London on Saturday afternoon to mark the death of Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old marketing executive whose murder sparked a wave of anger and solidarity among women across the country. Britain.
The crowd, mostly women, gathered in silence, some weeping, around a bandstand. They were half a mile from the house Battersea where Everard had visited a friend the night she disappeared. The Duchess of Cambridge was among those seen paying tribute.
“It feels like Sarah Everard’s death is at the height of violence against women, but a lot of people would identify with certain things around personal safety or feel threatened by men,” said Naomi Grant. , a parliamentary assistant present.
A sign of the strength of sentiment sparked by the case, the rally went ahead, despite a police ban due to coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Having agreed to cancel the vigil on Saturday morning, organizers, Reclaim These Streets, encouraged people to light a candle on their doorstep to remember Everard and “all women affected and lost by violence.”
Later as a police urged people to leave Clapham Common, a video posted on social media, it appeared that a group of agents were forcibly removing at least one person from the bandstand that had become the focal point of the tributes.
At least 31 women have been murdered in Britain this year, according to Karen Ingala-Smith, director of the NIA / End Violence Against Women and Girls campaign group, and the researcher behind “deadwomencounting,” a list update on murdered women. by males or when the primary suspect is a male.
There were at least 131 casualties in 2020, she said, at the height of what activists describe as an epidemic of violence against women compounded by a surge in violence against women. domestic violence during coronavirus lockouts.
But Everard’s case has touched a raw nerve, causing a backlash against toxic masculinity in British culture and forcing a national account on how girls and women are treated. Thousands of people have shared their experiences of harassment and worse on social media, amid a clamor for the police to do more to make the streets safe.
Everard was last seen on Poynders Rd as she walked home through the south London neighborhood of Clapham. Side streets around the area were still covered with ‘missing’ posters seeking information on his disappearance, despite confirmation by Metropolitan Police on Friday that his body had been found in the woods fifty miles away in Kent.
On Saturday, Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old officer in the Metropolitan Police Protection Unit, was charged with kidnapping and murder.
The fact that the accused was a working police officer further increased the tension and an investigation was opened as to whether the police responded appropriately to a report several days earlier, involving the same man, of indecent revelation. .
“This is a shocking murder,” said Dame Vera Baird, the UK’s independent commissioner for victims, who represents the interests of victims of crime.
Listing the type of actions women routinely feel pressured to take when walking alone, like holding keys in their hands like a weapon or pretending to be on the phone, she said: “It’s the worst nightmare. that you can have when you leave. at home, having taken all those elusive actions – the sound of footsteps behind you. This is the peak of terror.
Some of the anger that has erupted over the past week, as the case has turned from a missing person to a murder, has been directed at the criminal justice system. “He doesn’t take rape, domestic violence, or even domestic homicide seriously. It’s like (criminals) are allowed to do it, ”Baird said.
This feeling has been reinforced by an upsurge in reports of sexual violence since the “#Me too” movement accelerated in 2017, following revelations about sexual abuse perpetrated by the movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
But the growing willingness of women to file complaints has coincided with a drop in the number of prosecutions and convictions.
Rape reports in England and Wales more than tripled in seven years through March 2020, to 55,130 police recorded in the year on that date. But in the same period, the number of rape prosecutions fell to the lowest level on record, and convictions fell to 1,439 from 2,991 three years earlier.
“There is a massive demand for justice from women, with more reports of rape to police now than at any time, and yet the overwhelming majority of cases go unchallenged. There is a culture of impunity for these types of crimes, ”said Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women (EVAW) action group, who said this effectively amounts to“ decriminalization of rape ”.
She said that Everard’s tragic case also caused such a strong feeling because women were so universally grieved by the efforts they needed to make to lessen the risk of being assaulted. “The consequences of not being more vigilant are that we will likely be blamed for doing something that inadvertently endangered us,” she said.
Coincidentally, the appeals court is due to issue a ruling on Monday in a case brought by the EVAW and the Center for Women’s Justice accusing the Crown Prosecution Service of raising the bar in rape cases by prosecuting only those where they are wrong. high chances of doing so. convince a jury.
In response to the outpouring of anger surrounding Everard’s death, Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday extended ongoing public consultations on what the government should do to more effectively protect women and men on Friday for two weeks. girls.
“It’s not just about women,” said Marsha de Cordova, shadow secretary of state for Labor for Women and Equalities and MP for Battersea, who attended the vigil at Clapham Common. “Men really need to take responsibility and recognize that they have a role to play in making sure women and girls feel safe on the streets.”
Many women’s rights activists are frustrated that men have not been more proactive in tackling misogyny to date. “There’s no point in having a #MeToo movement unless men have one too. Our responsibility is to take care of our sisters. We need a corresponding movement of men to hold themselves to account, ”said Ingala Smith.