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Sarah Everard

Five women involved in PN share their reactions to the murder of Sarah Everard

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CCTV of Sarah Everard, 3 March.

The disappearance of Sarah Everard from Clapham Common in South London on 3 March. The arrest of a Metropolitan police officer, Wayne Couzens, on suspicion of involvement on 9 March. The discovery of Sarah’s body in Kent the next day. These events led to a national upheaval over the issue of male violence against women. We asked women involved in PN to share their reactions.

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Claire Poyner

Sara Everard’s murder was indeed shocking. Not surprising, obviously. This has been happening since forever.

Why this time, why this murder? ‘She was only trying to get home’ people were saying. As opposed to, what, partying in the park, in the dark, while being black?

I am not suggesting that there was such an outpouring of grief and anger because she was a young, attractive white woman, though that probably helped at least as far as some of the tabloid press was concerned.

What made the difference this time? Was it just the last straw?

Nobody should have to be reminded that an average of two women per week meet their deaths at the hands of a male partner or ex-partner.

Just to discourage whataboutery, yes, men can be victims too, at the hands of their partner, whether male or female, and yes, it’s just as shocking and sad. Just... less common.

So, is it worse that a stranger has decided to abduct and kill?

It wasn’t so long ago when a man was legally permitted to ‘beat’ his wife, and indeed, when working in a hospital in the 1980s (no, I was not a nurse, why would you assume that?), I often heard comments such as: ‘He hit her, she isn’t even his wife!’.

Much like rape is considered ‘worse’, by some, if the perpetrator is a stranger to the victim. Marital rape used to be impossible because a husband was entitled to sex with his wife and, presumably, she was not entitled to refuse.

There’s been a lot on social media of course.

One attitude I have found myself arguing against is: ‘This is a result of closing down mental health institutions.’ As if, of course, only a mentally-unstable man would do such a thing.

Well, maybe, but he (the alleged murderer in this case) surely wasn’t always mentally unstable.

I think most who commit this sort of crime start off with the attitude that any unaccompanied woman is fair game to be ‘chatted up’ and subsequently called all sorts of names if she ignores him, or retorts with ‘F-off’.

Then it escalates.

No, I reckon the only ‘mental health issue’ here is an over-riding sense of entitlement, that men are ‘owed’ whatever they’re asking for and woe betide any woman refusing.

As a reminder, women have had to put up with this sort of thing since forever. And it’s about time it stopped.

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Lotte Reimer

I have been trying to figure out what to write about my feelings and thoughts, but I am really struggling.

At 66, I am so angry that we have a society that is still so deeply sexist and misogynist – it feels to me that we gain a little and then go backwards again.

The way the police handled the vigil in London was shocking and totally underlined the point the participants were making about the need to stop violence against women.

That the police now are supposed to get additional powers through the proposed Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill and thus be able to stop any protest, while protesters could face 10 years in prison for ‘serious disruption’ (to be defined by whom?) fills me with despair.

It feels as if our rights are being systematically eroded and we end up with fewer and fewer rights at a time where there is more and more need to be out there for change, and it seems only disruption can make people listen.

We would still not have the vote if the suffragettes hadn’t been prepared to disrupt!

I’m sorry, but I can’t get my head round it any better than this at the moment, I feel that the more urgent the issues are the more restrictions we are facing and I am so fed up with it.

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Rebecca Elson-Watkins

Every few years, we have a case like this.

Every few years, the same tears, the same incandescent rage, the same cries of ‘she was just walking home!’.

This time, her name was Sarah Everard.

The man accused of kidnapping and murdering her was a serving Metropolitan police officer. He was in London that night because he was a police officer, finishing his shift less than two hours before he snatched Sarah.

The Met’s response has been predictably laughable and misogynistic; they told women to stay home. We said: ‘No.’

A now-infamous vigil was planned on Clapham Common. Instead of working with women, or perhaps even trying to rebuild our trust in them, I saw male Met officers shove, pin and arrest other women, without provocation.

Reclaim These Streets, a brand new organisation was born. Their primary goal is stated in their name: to reclaim the streets of the UK, and make them safe for women. Their crowdfunder raised over £525,000 in a matter of days.

The Rosa Fund for Women, a specialist women’s and girl’s grant-making charity, will manage the distribution of funds. That money will make a real difference to the lives of women and girls. Yet, in funding terms, it’s just not enough.

We aren’t even safe at home.

In March, the Femicide Census reported that 70 percent of women murdered in the UK were murdered in their own homes; 62 percent of those were killed by a current or former partner. 20 of the men had killed women before.

In 2019, the Independent reported that one in six women’s refuges had closed since 2010. We know that this government doesn’t care about women’s safety; they proved that by rejecting amendments to the Domestic Abuse bill that would have created a register of abusers.

This simple yet radical proposal could have saved countless women and children from the misery of domestic violence.

My own experience would seem to confirm this. Three years after I escaped my own abuser, I was contacted by his next partner. She wanted to know if his behaviour towards her was part of a pattern, or if, as he had ‘gaslit’ her to think, it really was her fault that he hit her.

A register would have told her this in advance, perhaps it might even have kept her safe.

As we ease out of lockdown, many of us are itching to campaign again. I only hope society is listening when we say her name, and the names of the other 52 women killed by men in the UK in the first 125 days of 2021. Rest in Power, sisters.

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Clapham Common, 13 March. PHOTO: REBECCA ELSON WATKINS


Leslie Barson

The murder of Sarah Everard was wrong, tragic and dire. The first thing to do is to send love and support to her family and friends and keep on sending it for many years to come. Then we need to try to understand this act, why it happened and try to prevent it happening again.

However, to understand it as an imbalance of gender relations, as many have, is misguided and will not stop it happening again.

It needs to be analysed as reflecting dominant power relations embedded deep in our society; those who are stronger in some way are seen as somehow better. These relations are ones of physical power, crass, blunt and nothing to do with what makes us human. They are a legacy from the Roman empire, the ultimate imperialists, coupled with the prevalent ideology of capitalism.

Gender is one of many places where these power relations reside. Addressing these manifestations separately plays in to the hands of those who hold power. Those oppressions which are less important to capitalism can be changed without affecting the central power relations.

This is not to say they are not important but our analysis cannot stop with any single oppression. They have to be understood as part of a larger whole.

This murder may be an instance of gender power relations but changing attitudes to gender is not where our energies should go. We need to question the values and ideology of capital that disunite us in order to distract us from the crucial challenge of overcoming the ideologies of competition, hierarchy, and the drive to accumulate profit.

We should use each instance of capital’s negation of the human as a chance to recognise underlying power relations. What happened to Sarah is not just a single issue between the masculine and the feminine but comes out of a pervasive set of ideas arising from and acceptable to capitalism.

Better to promote and live an alternative world view where we talk to people whose views frighten us, co-operate, compromise and forgive. Our culture, dominated by capital, revels in and requires us to constantly lash out, taking out our fears on each other.

We must not divide ourselves over single identity issues but understand Sarah’s murder and countless other murders of our young people and of people abroad, as an instance of the dominant oppression of capitalism. This is where our energies need to be directed and renewed in her memory and the memories of countless others.

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Emily Johns

My first feeling on hearing about Sarah Everard's murder was that it was an eruption of pus from the Metropolitan police force.

At the very time that the Spycops government enquiry into undercover policing is picking over the institutional sexual predation which was part of the Met's practice, a policeman is arrested for abducting and killing a young woman.

My response was visceral and angry.

However, my calmer response was that, while we know very little about the accusedwe do know that he worked for an institution that authorised and possibly trained undercover officers to form sexual and intimate relationships with women for the purpose of spying on their political lives.

That institution has just conceded that undercover cop Mark Kennedy’s relationship with activist Kate Wilson breached Article 3 of the Human Rights Act which ‘protects the right to live without torture or inhuman or degrading treatment’.

What the Police Spies out of Lives campaign is slowly revealing is institutional misogyny within the Met.

It took the death of Stephen Lawrence, and his mother’s campaign, for William Macpherson’s Inquiry to conclude that the Metropolitan Police was institutionally racist.

Was Wayne Couzens trained to be a misogynistic policeman? We don’t know, yet. But we do know that between 2012 and 2018 there were 594 complaints of sexual misconduct against Met officers which included: an investigating officer having sex with a rape victim; an officer filming a woman in a park who seemed to be having non-consensual sex with a man; one having a sexual relationship with a resident of a women’s refuge; officers who raped strangers, their wives, who targeted children.... (Guardian, 20 March).

Sarah Everard’s murder may be the final straw for the police system that we have.

For decades, there have been calls in the US to defund the police.

In London, in 2019 – 2020, there were approximately 7,890 rapes recorded by the Met. Numbers have been growing massively year on year.

We don’t want records of crimes, we want violence against women not to happen in the first place.

Apparently policing does not prevent violence against women but this government, like governments before them, wants to find funding for 20,000 more police officers with tasers and bodycams and shiny new powers, taking funding away from education, from social services, from mental health support, from community pots.

So let us defund the policing of crimes against women for start. Let us nationally fund a whole new organisation with the remit to address sexism and misogyny in our culture, to educate in nonviolent relationships, to properly support the harmed, with the powers to record and seek justice.

I look at our police station and imagine a Women’s Centre on that spot. It would be an institution which commanded dignity and respect, where you would go when you have been harmed, where people reach out and take you in, listen to you because you matter and tell you that you are completely safe.

Claire Poyner is the PN admin worker. Lotte Reimer edits the Wales Page for PN. Rebecca Elson-Watkins is a PN columnist and reporter. Leslie Barson is a member of the PN board. Emily Johns is the PN production worker.

Topics: Feminism