Empowering women to Reclaim These Streets… and their social lives

August 24, 2021

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Aya Pfeufer offers advice on how everyone must take steps to keep females safe

On the 3rd of March 2021, a 33-year-old marketing executive called Sarah Everard suddenly disappeared in Clapham Common on her way home after spending time at her friend’s house.

It was shocking news to the British and international public to discover that Everard vanished, especially when the night was still early. She was kidnapped, raped and then murdered by compression of the neck. The remains of her body was found in a woodland near Ashford, Kent on the 10th March 2021.

What’s even more appalling to find out is that the perpetrator of violence is Metropolitan Police officer called Wayne Couzens.

Sarah Everad’s case resulted in an eruption of wrath and distress. Many people have protested on the streets supporting the movement ‘Reclaim These Streets’, also known as ‘Reclaim the Night’, a movement against sexual violence which was founded in Leeds in 1977 under the Women’s Liberation Movement.

The marches and protests were an opportunity to empower survivors and to spread awareness of violence against women.

Being catcalled, flashed at, stalked and groped are just a few of the ordeals that women, and some men also, may have experienced

I first became aware of this movement due to Everard’s case and finding out about the public protests that took place. Her case has been a great shock to the public and as a result a vigil was carried out shortly after the announcement of her death.

Flocks of people stood in the street and in front of her doorstep at 9:30pm on Saturday 13th March 2021 which is the time that Everard disappeared.

This case has revealed a wider prominent issue: women’s safety. Being catcalled, flashed at, stalked and groped are just a few of the ordeals that women, and some men also, may have experienced or faced at some point regardless of age.

According to a recent, EU-wide Violence Against Women survey (which included the UK) by Freedoms & Justice Research Department, one in three women has experienced physical and/or sexual violence (at least once since she was 15) and one in two women has been sexually harassed, as many as one in five in the last 12 months. These are alarmingly high rates.

More women have now had the courage to share their stories of sexual harassment and violence all over social media, some of which mentioned feeling fearful and unsafe in public spaces.

As men are the primary perpetrators of violence against women they need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions

Everard’s case shows the dangers women could possibly encounter when alone. This is heightened when at night.

Ways women tackle this issue is by sharing their location with family and friends or simply by firmly clutching their keys in their hand in case anyone follows or is aggressive to them. It is a form of self-defence.

Although women are advised by some not to go out at night alone or without a male companion, men also need to participate in making women feel safer in public and understand women’s feelings and concerns.

For example, if a woman is walking on a street and you are a man walking in the same direction as her it’s best to keep a distance and not directly walk behind her where you cannot visibly be seen.

As men are the primary perpetrators of violence against women they need to be held accountable and responsible for their actions. Many men get away with their assaults due to so few women speaking up and communicating their assault to an authority.

Victims may be hesitant to report their experience due to fears about what could happen next

According to the most recent Crime Survey for England and Wales an estimated fewer than one in five (17%) victims reported their experience of rape to the police. The most common reason for not doing so was embarrassment, followed by thinking the police couldn’t help and that it would be humiliating.

Victims may be hesitant to report their experiences due to fears about what could happen next to them or due to self-blame, which may be a sudden reaction to the situation. In addition, they may believe that it was their actions that resulted in what has happened, for example because they were too intoxicated, showing too much cleavage or wearing a revealing outfit.

These are all excuses/reasons we have heard about. Also, they may feel dehumanised and humiliated after what has happened to them as it’s a large shock on their physical, emotional and psychological state and wellbeing. It can be a traumatising.

However, the real root of the problem is lack of respect and empathy towards women. If we educated more boys who are at the age of consent and young men about the importance of consent and action they can take to make women feel safer and more comfortable in public, this would reduce the number of assaults taking place each year.

If you are physically assaulted or grabbed you could scream to get people’s attention, kick the attacker and finally sprint away to safety

A common way to get out of an uncomfortable and difficult situation if you are out socialising is to ‘Ask for Angela’. This is a discreet code word you can use to catch the attention members of staff in bars/clubs to tell them that you are in danger.

‘Ask for Angela’ is a campaign that started in 2016 by a woman called Hayley Child, Substance Misuse Strategy Coordinator for Lincolnshire County Council to try and reduce the number of sexual assaults happening in local venues and public areas.

A second way you can tackle inappropriate attention from males is ignoring them, rejecting their advances and moving on. This is a quick and strong method to disengage with a potential attacker. If you are physically assaulted or grabbed you could scream to get people’s attention, kick the attacker and finally sprint away to safety, like a nearby café or shop.

Taking alcohol and drugs increases your risk of being taken advantage of and sexually assaulted as you are less aware of your surroundings and less sharp in the way you think and make decisions. Other dangerous situations include travelling in isolated spaces such as a bus or train or walking out at night where there are not a lot of people, such as an alleyway.

If someone does make unwelcome advances towards you, you must be direct about communicating, sooner rather than later

Even though wearing skin-tight and revealing clothes shouldn’t be an excuse for men’s behaviours, sadly women should be aware of how this could come across to male predators and the risks involved.

If someone does make unwelcome advances towards you or talks in a way that is suggestive you must be direct about communicating, sooner rather than later, that you are not comfortable or interested so that the situation does not get out of hand and escalates to something worse. Often passivity can be misinterpreted as consent and permission which is distressing.

If you’re at home either with someone or by yourself, you can take simple actions such as closing the curtains at night and double locking your doors.

Although Sex Education is mandatory in UK schools, the issue of sexual violence against women should be highlighted and reinforced much more. This issue may not be taken seriously as men could just perceive it simply as ‘lad culture’ and ‘banter’ which is joking around about how desirable women are or how ‘easy’ they are sexually. This results to degradation and objectification of women.

Get help here if you have been sexually assaulted, harassed or raped:

NHS Help after rape and sexual assault 
Confidential emotional support helpline

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