The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 was undoubtedly a tragedy, particularly for her family and friends, but her death has also made an impression on many women across the country who shared their apparent experiences of harassment or abuse at the hands of men. What made this incident particularly noteworthy was the fact that the person charged with the crime was a serving Metropolitan police officer named Wayne Couzens. The police’s reputation, already bruised by accusations of racism following the George Floyd incident in the US, took a further battering following the revelation about the culprit. This was followed by more controversy over the manhandling of several female protestors at a vigil for Ms. Everard in Clapham Common, London shortly after the incident.
In response to the killing of Sarah Everard, it wasn’t surprising that many politicians, journalists and other social commentators came out to speak about violence against women which, like racism or homophobia, was said to be endemic in society. Such was the concern for women’s safety that there was even a suggestion of a ‘curfew for men’ put forward in the House of Lords by Green Party peer Jenny Jones which was even considered by the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford! This however was denounced in many places, prompting her to say it was just a thought experiment.
Similarly, on Twitter the hashtag #notallmen, which pointed out that most men do not commit acts of violence against women, was criticised for somehow taking the focus off women as victims. A forgotten fact about the case, that a woman had also been arrested as an accomplice to Couzens, prompted me, at the time, to comment about this on Twitter with the hashtag #notallwomen. Nevertheless, later on, this woman was released without charge. I’ve tried to find out for certain who this woman was but I couldn’t find any more information. I can only assume it was Wayne Couzens’ wife who, as far as we know, had nothing to do with Sarah Everard’s death. Even so, women who are guilty of a crime rarely get the media attention and condemnation that men do so the #notallmen point is valid.
The recent conviction of Wayne Couzens brought the Sarah Everard case back into public discussion when he was sentenced to a whole life sentence in September. This was predictably followed by further hand-wringing about how awful the world is for women. Another controversy emerged when the Police Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Philip Allott, said that women should be “streetwise” and “educate themselves about powers of arrest” so they know “when they can be arrested”. This was because Couzens had placed Everard under arrest as a means to abduct her and subsequently rape and murder her. Instead of women taking this as advice to avoid such an incident happening again, Philip Allott was accused of ‘victim blaming’ and faced calls to resign, which he eventually did. Perhaps he could have worded it differently, but if women are supposed to be responsible and independent, why was this such as bad thing to suggest?
In an ideal world, no police officer would use their power to harm and exploit another person, but no human being (not even women!) is flawless. It’s an unfortunate fact, but there will always be some men who commit acts of violence against women just like there will always be acts of violence against human beings in general. Therefore, telling women to be cautious and think twice before putting themselves in a vulnerable position is not ‘victim blaming’ but just common sense. Since women have what could be called ‘permanent victim status’ though, any recommendation that they act to avoid putting themselves at risk is met with howls of condemnation.
Many men have been asking women how they can make them feel safer which, while sincere and well intentioned, is another way in which men as a group are forced to denigrate themselves before the ‘victim sex’. Men such as myself can only look on with disappointment. Since a lot of men aren’t willing to stand up for themselves, it’s encouraging that other women in the public sphere such as Davina McCall in a Twitter post and Janet Street-Porter in an article for the Daily Mail criticised the response to the death of Sarah Everard which framed violence against women as if all men are responsible for it.
I don’t always agree with Janet Street-Porter, but I was impressed with what she wrote here. In her article, she notes:
“As with Meghan and Harry (MM: a reference to the then-recent Oprah Winfrey interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle), an utterly unique set of circumstances is in danger of being hijacked and politicised by people with their own axes to grind”
“Young women might complain that they are being blamed for wearing skimpy clothing, for drinking too much, for wearing heels and not sensible trainers. I think that’s an over-reaction. These matters are all personal choices. But don’t demonise men – that won’t solve the problem.”
“the reality is that most men are NOT rapists or murderers or kidnappers and pretending that they are demeans both sexes and will only make women even more terrified.”Janet Street-Porter
Another woman, a friend of Sarah Everard’s called Helena Edwards, wrote an article on the website spiked arguing that Ms. Everard would not have wanted the response that has occurred over her death:
“my friend’s tragic death has been hijacked. It is not a tribute to her any more, it’s about something else – and I don’t like what it has become.”
“I don’t think Sarah would have wanted them (MM: the men in her life), or men in general, to be smeared with the same brush as her attacker. Most people, and indeed men, are good.”
Likewise, the criminology professor Marian Fitzgerald of Kent University pointed out in an article in the Daily Telegraph that men were far more likely to be killed than women, stating:
“Women account for about a third of all murders. Men are far more likely to be murdered. Men are far more likely to be murdered by someone they don’t know. Men are far more likely to be murdered in a public place, and that hasn’t changed. I think I’m entitled to say as a woman, we shouldn’t pander to stereotypes and get hysterical.”Marian Fitzgerald
The reaction to this event is indicative of the saying: ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ – i.e. using a particular event as a means to score political points and put forward a particular narrative – in this case, male violence against women and misogyny in general. This has been reflected elsewhere in the increasing influence of ‘Black Lives Matter’ following George Floyd’s death in 2020. People often demand that ‘something must be done’ in response to such a crisis despite the fact that, in the case of Sarah Everard’s death, Wayne Couzens has been apprehended and convicted. The ‘something’ that ‘must be done’ in this particular case is the conviction and imprisonment of the murderer which is what has happened. However, what activists mean by ‘something must be done’ goes beyond this and demands instead a more utopian solution to the problem. They would only be truly satisfied if violence against women was completely eradicated.
Much like with George Floyd’s death, the truth doesn’t matter as long as a particular narrative is put forward.