Featured Image: NBC News
Earlier this year, Sarah Everard’s disappearance sparked the outrage of a nation. The 33-year-old woman was last seen in Clapham, South London late at night, only for her body to be found in Kent after almost ten days of investigation by the Metropolitan Police. On the 30th of September, Wayne Couzens, who happens to be a Met Police officer, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to full life in prison after pleading guilty to kidnap, rape, and murder of the young woman.
From the 3rd to the 11th of March, many people on social media platforms shared Sarah’s missing person picture, women recounting their frightening but way too familiar experiences of walking home by themselves whether it be daylight or dark at night, and feminist organizations raised awareness on the different ways women could protect and defend themselves in case of assault. What propelled me to write about Sarah was not only the final sentence of her murderer but also the more recent case of Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito who was found dead after a cross country trip with her boyfriend, whom the general public believe to be responsible, after the bodycam footage of the police which revealed the young woman state of distress.
In the first case, it is a police officer, in the second, it is a companion, and both happen to be…men. Now, this won’t be a “men are trash” rant, however, I cannot help but be concerned about the violence of both situations involving men abusing their professional and physiological power over women, especially during a global pandemic. These are not isolated cases, as reports have shown that violence against women, especially domestic violence, increased not only in the UK but all around the world. The fact remains the same. Not all men, but still men. Wayne Couzens used his police officer title to arrest Ms. Everard under the United Kingdom Covid laws and then kidnapped her. Days prior, he exposed himself at a McDonald’s drive-thru, twice. The disturbing truth is that despite identifying him, the Met Police did not recognize him as a police officer, which would have led to his warrant card being taken away, the one he used to unlawfully arrest Sarah Everard. “If they had taken this more seriously, they could easily have figured out that he was a policeman who had committed these crimes,” said the McDonald’s worker. Same in Gabby Petito’s case, where the police officers could have protected her by separating her from her boyfriend Brian, instead of just walking away from the fight they had in the car. If law enforcement does not take women seriously, who will? Why does it take murder for UK law enforcement to review their standards for their own officers? Why can’t women walk alone safely when it’s dark? Why is society choosing to ignore the red flags about the dangerous men in our lives?
The fact remains the same. Not all men, but still men.
When I saw the last CCTV footage of Sarah wearing her white beanie and her green coat, my first thought was “she was just walking home”. A life was ruined because law enforcement did not take its role seriously. Many women’s lives are ruined on a daily basis because law enforcement does not take the first red flags seriously. The fact that it took this murder for a judge to give a whole life sentence (which — unfortunately — rarely happens in the UK) is rather worrying and embarrassing, as it shows how little value women’s lives hold in the legal and criminal system and society in general.
I lived in a city which was known for its highest rates of violent crime in the UK, and this case naturally made me realize how “lucky” I had been all those times I walked by myself after a night out, sober or tipsy, wearing a pair of jeans or a skirt. But I shouldn’t be grateful, it should be the norm. It is every woman’s right to feel safe at any time and any place. After Sarah Everard’s case, Blessing Olusegun’s death which occurred last year was brought back to the police attention as people on social media pointed out the fact that Blessing’s case received less media coverage and police search efforts. Indeed, the cause of her death remained inconclusive which led the general public to wonder if this “inconclusiveness” had anything to do with racism and discrimination towards black women victims compared to the cases involving white women.
A more recent case, the one of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old London teacher, showed how the solidarity among social media users helped cover her disappearance — which unfortunately lead to her murder.
How is it that people who protest against men violence against women after such horrifying news get sprayed and dragged violently off the roads and the streets, but men, men in authority positions, and specifically white men get coddled and usually get away with it? Why is it exceptional, in 2021, to give a life sentence to men who abuse and kill women? Why should I feel anxious on my way back home after it gets dark outside? Why should I feel lucky to still be alive after walking by myself past 9 pm? But men get to walk freely, no matter the place or the time of the day. Why is it that still in 2021, white women victims receive more media coverage and police search efforts than women of color? Why is it that white men get fairer sentences than men of color, especially black men? I obviously know the answers — patriarchy and racism — but when will it be enough?