The murder of Sarah Everard brings up an issue of women’s safety: simply walking home.
For those who don’t know Sarah Everard, she was a 33-year-old marketing executive who was walking home from a friend’s house on March 3rd. The walk is approximately 50 minutes. She left her friend around 9 p.m., cut through a large park on her way home, spoke to her boyfriend on the phone for 14 minutes, and was last seen at 9:28 p.m. in doorbell camera footage.
Later the next day, her boyfriend notified police that she was missing. The police elicited the help of the public to locate her, and they searched South London and the ponds of Clapham Commons (the park through which she walked home).
On March 10, remains were found and through dental records, were proven to be Sarah. A Metro police officer, Wayne Couzens was arrested for her kidnapping and murder.
On March 13, several hundred people gathered for a vigil on behalf of Sarah. One sign indicated that 97% of women in Britain had endured harassment. A 2018 survey found that 81% of women globally have experienced sexual harassment. Such harassment consists of verbal sexual harassment, unwelcome sexual touching, being physically followed, unwanted genital flashing, and sexual assault¹. In the vigil for Sarah, many women indicated they had experienced catcalls as well.
This brings up the question – is safe to walk home? For years, women have experienced walking by construction sites with men sitting on I-beams, having lunch, and calling them names: baby, sweetheart, honey, good looking, sexy, etc. Many men see this as simply paying a compliment to a woman they believe is attractive. However, many women also report being called foul names when these “compliments” aren’t received the way the giver wants.
There is a safety “game” I play with my students in my domestic violence course. When there are men in the course, I have them go first. The question: What do you do on a daily basis to stay safe?
Their answers are typically things like:
- Lock my car
- Make sure my home is secure at night
- Some say they may park under a light if they know they will be at a place after hours
- When I pose the same question to female students, typical answers include:
- Lock my car when I get in
- Park under a light if I know I’ll be there late
- Check the parking structure as I approach my car
- Walk with my keys between my fingers – no matter the time of day
- Check the backseat of my car before getting in
- Check under my car from a distance
- Proceed with caution to my car if a van is parked nearby
- Walk with someone if it’s at night
- Make sure my house is locked as I walk in
- Be sure to have lights on timers
- Carry pepper spray
- Don’t wear both earbuds while out walking
- Switch up routines
- Walk with a cell phone in hand
- Avoid eye contact with men
- Never leave a drink unattended and never pick it back up after setting it down
- Do not enter elevators if there is only one person inside (especially a man)
- Avoid areas where previous harassment has occurred
This is a small list of what women do on a daily basis to be safe. Most men do not have to take these same precautions. The list points out the fact that women have to go to extra lengths to protect themselves even when simply walking outside of their house. If we want this to change, we need to be teaching men that ‘no means no,’ ‘no’ is not a negotiation, unsolicited comments on people’s appearances are harassment, and what consent truly looks like.
No one should ever fear walking home.
1. Chatterjee, R. (2018 February 21). A new survey finds 81 percent of women have experienced sexual harassment. NPR. http://www.npr.org