Who was Sarah Everard?
On the evening of 3rd March, Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive was on her way from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London before she was abducted by Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old serving Metropolitan Police officer. Sarah was a young woman with a future that looked bright and promising. She was originally from York, studied Human Geography at the University of Durham and moved to London 12 years ago, not long after graduating to pursue a career in marketing. Just weeks before her passing, she had started a new job at a digital media agency, which she was excited about. Sarah was survived by her parents, brother and sister and boyfriend. She was a human being, and her life was dreadfully cut short by a monster who abused his power not only as a man, but also as an officer of the law, who was supposed to protect and serve.
Shedding a light on violence towards women in the UK
For all of us, Sarah’s death has been a cold, harsh reminder of the sexism that continues to pervade our society, threatening the lives of women and girls everyday. As reported by Jess Phillips, the Labour Party’s Shadow Minister for domestic violence, six women and a little girl were killed at the hands of men in just one week since Sarah’s death. In the last decade, it seems that Western societies have come to some sort of unspoken agreement that women’s issues have been largely sorted, gender inequality has become extinct, and feminism as a movement is now outdated. In Reggie Yate’s documentary episode ‘Men at War’ from the BBC series Extreme UK, Yates exposes the existence of the ‘manosphere’ – an underground online community of men who harass feminists and circulate misogynistic views and anti-feminist propaganda. Given the perceptions that these men had of feminism as having ‘gone too far’ and having silenced the voices of men, it is apparent that there are countless men who misconceive the movement for gender equality as a threat to their personal autonomy, rather than a threat to the patriarchal system. Despite what these men may think, feminism is far from outdated. In fact, this presumption could be no further from the truth, and all it takes to realise that is a glimpse of the facts: the fact that women constituted only 1 in 10 murderers in the last decade, yet accounted for almost a third of all murder victims is proof that gender equalityi is far from being achieved. In addition, between 2009 and 2018, 119 women were killed by men who were not known to them, whilst whilst 1,419_women were killed by men overall. Although men unfortunately accounted for over two-thirds of murder victims in the last decade, the causes of violence towards men range from gang-related violence to random crime such as theft, but are never solely because of the vulnerability of their gender. On the other hand, women in the UK are made victims of ‘femicide’ every three days, a term which refers to the killing of women solely on the basis of their gender, because they are viewed as inherently weaker or as sexual objects. These trends of femicide provide context for why many women in the UK have been so outraged in the last few weeks, and took to the streets to participate in vigils across the country organised by ‘Reclaim These Streets’, a group of women who have organised the nation-wide vigils. These vigils memorialised Sarah and emphasised the need for government, police and societal action to make public places safer for women. The police’s man-handling of women at the vigil in Clapham Common have further revealed how the British criminal justice system continues to legitimise sexist attitudes and behaviours in society, by refusing to actively stand in solidarity with the women at Clapham. They are either with women in the fight against femicide, or they are against us.
A magnifying glass which also exposes misogynoir in the UK?
The way in which Sarah Everard’s death has been extensively reported by the media has brought to light the lack of both police and media consideration given to cases in which black women are the victims. For Black-British women, this is a mere reminder of the misogynoir (prejudice against or contempt for black women) we have been facing all our lives in Western society. From the murder of Blessing Olusegun, the 21-year-old British-Nigerian Business student whose death in September 2020 was deemed as ‘unexplained’ and treated as unsuspicious by the police, to that of Shukri Abdi, the 12-year-old Somali girl who suspiciously drowned to death in River Irwell, Greater Manchester. Alongside these victims are Joy Morgan, sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and countless other women and girls of colour, all of whom have been denied the adequate media attention to ensure a thorough investigation into their deaths. On the other hand, Sarah Everard’s missing person report was filed within a day, a Twitter appeal was put out by the Metropolitan Police in less than 48 hours and her case was solved within just one week. The underwhelming lack of media representation and police investigation that such incidents involving black women have received is evidence of the dismissal of black women’s victimisation. As stated by Tobi Oredein, the Founder and Editor of Black Ballad magazine, “When black girls go missing, there is a piercing silence by journalists. Yet, when white girls go missing, our national news cycles are flooded with their pictures and press conferences featuring their families and statements from committed police officers are aired across different news channels, hours after their disappearances are logged.” Despite the fact that black people are more likely to be reported as missing persons in England and Wales, the standard face of ‘the missing person’ or murder victim in the UK is and has always been the white woman - a reality which can be attributed to the Western world’s ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’. This refers to the Western media's disproportionate focus on upper-middle-class white women and girls who disappear (I’m sure the face of Madeleine McCann has become imprinted into our memory by now). The constant promotion of ‘the missing person’ as inherently white and female creates a harmful narrative in society: that white women have monopoly over victimhood. Consequently, women of colour are rarely perceived as vulnerable, even when they suffer from mental health issues. This was seen in the case of Sarah Reed, the black woman who was dragged and punched repeatedly by a police officer in a central London clothing shop in 2012, and later committed suicide in prison in January 2016 when she was detained without medication for over three months. Society’s refusal to recognise that women of colour are also human and are deserving of sympathy means that they, along with men and boys, are sidelined in the search for missing persons. Take, for example, the case of Richard Okorogheye, the student who is currently missing, and whose mother was asked by a police officer when she requested their assistance in searching for him, “If you can’t find your son, how do you expect police officers to find your son for you?”.
Undeniably, ‘Missing White Women Syndrome’ further solidifies black women’s position at the bottom of the social hierarchy. Despite black women already being more likely to suffer from sexual assault and domestic abuse than white and Asian women, black women (including multiracial women with black origins) also have to deal with the underlying institutional racism which fails to protect them from this violence. The ‘double jeopardy’ that black women experience uniquely as victims of both sexism and racism simultaneously is perfectly captured through the term ‘misogynoir’, which encapsulates the intersectional experience of black womanhood and emphasises the need for intersectionality in society’s attitudes, laws and policies.
What can we learn from one woman’s tragic death?
Sarah Everard’s unfortunate death has reignited important conversations about issues in British society. The first: patriarchy is still alive and kicking and must continue to be disrupted. The instant spread of the hashtag ‘#NotAllMen’ on social media, less than 24 hours after Sarah Everard’s death was reported further proves why we still have such a long way to go. Jess Phillips stated “Male violence is something that has to be tackled and challenged – and the justice system and society has to wake up to that, because at the moment we just simply don’t take it as seriously as we take other crimes.” However, if men are unable to listen to the concerns of women without jumping straight to the defence, then how can we ever have honest conversations about the ugliness of the patriarchy in our society? Why must these discussions occur only in safe spaces among women, without the participation of the very group of people that are perpetrating such violence?
What’s more, as both sexism and racism overlap to manifest themselves in the lives of women of colour as intersecting forms of oppression, feminism itself needs to become more intersectional if it is ever to truly represent the needs of all women - black, Asian, Latina, queer, trans, disabled. During the BLM protests that took over the world last summer, the black diaspora urged white people (and other non-black communities) to patiently listen to the concerns of the black community. We demanded that they abandon the instinctive urge to hurriedly declare themselves as “not racist”, and step outside of their bubble of ‘white privilege’ to truly understand that racism is a complex and multi-layered system. Nine months on, women in Britain are asking that our men do the same with their male privilege. Black women in Britain are asking that society does the same. When will we be heard?
Estelle is our Founder, Editor-in-Chief and Society & Politics Editor. She is a third year student studying BA English & Sociology at the University of Leeds. She is pursuing a career in journalism, writing and activism, and is interested in society, politics, foreign languages and cultures. Her Instagram handle is @estelleuba.