Sarah Everard’s murder was a wake-up call. The government keeps hitting snooze.
Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq
The murder of Sarah Everard by former police officer Wayne Couzens shocked the nation. It sparked nationwide protests and opened people’s eyes to dangers women and women-aligned people face every day - even at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us. The government and police pledged to take action, but seven months on from the murder, despite Couzens being handed a life sentence and an inquest into the Metropolitan police’s practices being announced, it doesn’t seem like systemic change is on the horizon.
Couzens’s trial shed light upon troubling details that left many wondering how the system had allowed for Couzens to assume a position of power in the first place; he had been linked to a dozen cases of indecent exposure and had also been nicknamed “the rapist” by his colleagues, but had not undergone “enhanced vetting” before being employed by the Metropolitan police. Questions surrounding the failure to spot these blatant warning signs have gone unanswered.
In fact, the few answers that have been offered were so insensitive that women feel more unsafe than ever. North Yorkshire Police Commissioner Philip Allott resigned after upwards of 800 complaints were made in response to his callous and damaging statement in which he said that “women... need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested”, essentially implying that Everard was in part responsible for her own rape and murder because she “submitted” to Couzens’ orders. Similarly, in a disastrous live interview, Dominic Raab said that “misogyny, whether it’s a man against a woman or a woman against a man” is wrong. Raab left women wondering how we can trust the government to protect us from male violence when the Deputy Prime Minister doesn’t even know what misogyny is. Insisting he understood what women “want”, all the while echoing Boris Johnson’s statements that misogyny should not be made a hate crime (despite a landmark UN survey revealing that at least 71% of women have been victim to it), Raab did nothing but convince us that his government is incapable of taking the “action” we so desperately need.
Of course Raab is right that women want action. We want to trust the police to take protecting all women seriously, without first having to assess whether they might pose a threat to us - even more work will have to be done to establish this trust for women of colour and trans women. We want to be able to go on a walk at night without having to rely on an app to alert the emergency services if we don’t make it home. And, when we do make it home, we want to be able to turn on the news without hearing of another woman like Hollie Gazzard or Sarah Everard or Sabina Nessa losing their life to male violence. But for this to become a reality, it is clear that we need leaders who will find concrete solutions rather than sticking plasters over every problem. We need leaders who won’t treat demands for systemic change like an inconvenience. We need compassionate leaders who are committed to bringing an end to gender-based violence, and who will work with organisations, experts and women themselves to solve the problems that so seriously affect us, rather than guessing us what we “want” and never delivering it.