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Content Warning: Discussions Of Sexual Harassment, Rape, and Murder.
Sarah Everard’s murder has made a lot of people across the UK very emotional and contemplative of the issue of women’s safety.
Sarah was a 33-year-old marketing executive who went missing on the 3rd of March while walking home through Clapham, South London. She wasn’t walking down a dark and secluded part of town. Her journey from Clapham Common to Brixton is one of London’s busiest and well-lit areas. She was wearing brightly coloured clothes and was on the phone with her boyfriend for part of the journey. But still, she was allegedly kidnapped and murdered by Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer working for the elite Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit.
Many men were shocked by the UN Women UK’s survey statistic that 97% of young women have been sexually harassed, however, most women are were not surprised by that statistic as they know the reality. Many comments circulating online and that I have heard in real life, assume that 100% of women have been sexually harassed at some point, but the 3% just may not be aware of it.
There isn’t really any reason that men should be so surprised. We live in a society where rape is normalised, especially at university. This is backed up by research from the NUS Women’s Campaign which has revealed that 75% of students in the UK have had at least one instance of unwanted sexual experience. Most university students will have witnessed sexual harassment in bars and nightclubs. The fact is that it’s so normalised is why these incidents would not have caught the attention of most people, and they may not even class them as sexual harassment.
Research done by the University of Washington has revealed that conventionally attractive women are more likely to be believed when they report sexual harassment. Those who aren’t typically feminine are often believed to be lying. White women are the most likely to be taken seriously when they report sexual harassment. But even then, denial of the reality of sexual harassment of all women is still prevalent, which is why 96% of victims do not report what happened to them.
Of course, Sarah Everard was murdered, which goes way beyond sexual harassment. But the fact remains that if she was a woman of colour, the outrage at her death would not have been as great. And it’s likely her case wouldn’t be given the same amount of attention and public support. This is not to take away from the pain and suffering of her family, what happened should not happen to any woman. But serious issues of inequality are highlighted, nonetheless.
Blessing Olusegun was 21 when she was murdered, and her body was discovered on a beach in East Sussex in September 2020. Her death was deemed ‘unexplained’. Public interest in what happened to Olusegun has resurfaced after the death of Sarah Everard this March. Needless to say, it took the death of a white woman for most people to even notice that this young black woman had been murdered months earlier.
In conclusion, more needs to be done to take unwanted attention and violence, towards women more seriously. Currently, the Lancaster University Student’s Union is discussing what changes need to be made to the sexual assault and harassment reporting system in order to promote a safer campus environment.