On the evening of March 3rd, 33-year-old Sarah Everard attended a dinner party in Clapham, a neighbourhood in South London. She left her friend’s house at 9 p.m. to make the 50 minute walk home to Brixton. Opting for the safer route, Ms. Everard took a longer route than normal to ensure she walked on some of the most populated and brightly lit streets of London. On her walk, Sarah made a fifteen-minute call to her boyfriend which was abruptly cut at 9:28. The next day, on March 4th, Sarah missed a meeting at work, causing her boyfriend to become concerned. He filed a missing persons enquiry later that day. A week after her disappearance, on March 10th, Sarah’s remains were formally identified through dental records. They had been found in a location over 50 miles away from where she disappeared. Police investigation led to the suspicion and eventual arrest of police officer Wayne Couzens for Sarah Everard’s kidnapping and murder.
Aftermath of the Event
In response to Sarah’s disappearance and murder, there was an explosion of protests, social media posts, and media articles. Her death quickly became a symbol of the frequent violence that women face at the hands of men and the system that upholds it.
Furthermore, her case reinforced the idea that all women are susceptible to facing violence: In grievances about her death, many jumped to her defence, stating that Sarah had taken the right steps to ensure her safety on the night of her disappearance.
In a tweet posted on March 10th, @thelaurabird writes “Sarah Everard did everything right. Everything women are ‘supposed’ to. Bright clothing. Main road. Called her man. Every woman I know in Clapham doesn’t feel safe at night. Not to walk home from work, to exercise, to walk to the shop. I wish more men understood this feeling.” As of March 21, the tweet had over three thousand retweets and twenty-one thousand likes.
This rhetoric which focuses on the fact that Sarah did everything “right” and still fell victim to male violence walks a dangerous line. It spreads the idea that, whether intentional or not, you have a degree of responsibility in your own victimhood; that you can do something wrong. It’s a rhetoric of victim shaming, one which implies that women who went home late at night, walked through dark alleys, and didn’t call their boyfriend on their walk home were all partially responsible for their fate.
This Twitter user wasn’t the only one to speak about how Sarah’s cautious actions didn’t warrant her fate. Part of the reason why the case got so much attention was because of the surrounding circumstances. In a journal about the Credibility Excess and Social Imaginary in Cases of Sexual Assault, Audrey Yap, a philosopher, argues that cases are more likely to receive societal traction if the victims and perpetrators of the crime fit into a narrow paradigm. A narrative where a young, white, attractive woman faces this level of violence is a narrative that the public seems to easily pick up on. As many in the general public can relate and empathize with Everard’s story, they are then more likely to feel deeply moved by the circumstances that led to her death.
Of course, people are then often unable to react in the same way to stories that are more complicated; stories that have less “‘perfect’ victims, [or] more sympathetic perpetrators.” A huge example of this complex is the high rate of violence Indigenous women and girls face in Canada and the lack of media coverage or public outcry that surrounds the cases. Between the years of 2016 and 2019 in Canada, there were more than 130 Indigenous women and girls who were reported as victims of homicide, suspicious death, or who died while in institutional care. The victims of these cases have seen little to no media attention.
Kidnapping cases that involve young, white, cis females will make headlines much more routinely than cases that involve minorities, males, older populations, or transgender populations. The obsession the media and public have with these cases is so prominent that late PBS anchor, Gwen Ifill, coined the phrase “missing white woman syndrome”.
None of that stated above is to negate the horrible experiences and the undeserved death of Sarah Everard and other victims who received media coverage. In contra to this, the media should widen the scope of who receives coverage: By giving attention to victims whose story don’t have a “perfect” victim and perpetrator, you spread the narrative that no one, regardless of their circumstance, deserves to be a victim of violence. Sarah Everard’s death should not be the only kidnapping that begs our society’s concern.
It is imperative that society supports all victims of violence by giving them attention in both the media and in our own private conversations. By bringing these cases into the public eye, we begin to dismantle a system that blames victims for the heinous acts performed against them.
A new rhetoric surrounding gendered violence needs to emerge—one in which the only person deemed responsible for a crime is the perpetrator.
The reality is that women shouldn’t have to leave their friends’ houses early, extend their walk home to opt for a safer route, call their boyfriends to let them know where they are, or devise safety plans and take precautions in their day-to-day lives.
Instead of spending so much time educating women on what steps to take to keep them safe, we should be educating men, and the general public, about the importance of protecting women.
Edited by Arielle De Leon