Let’s talk about women’s safety, says mourner at heart of UK policing uproar
Grief and rage over the murder of Londoner Sarah Everard should be channelled into efforts to stop men’s violence against women, not into political arguments about police tactics at a vigil, one of the women arrested at the event said on Monday.
Everard, 33, was abducted as she walked home in south London on March 3 and a police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder, provoking a national debate over how British society deals with male violence against women.
But the political focus shifted onto London’s Metropolitan Police after officers tried to disperse a vigil for Everard on Saturday, saying it breached COVID-19 lockdown rules. They scuffled with mourners and dragged women away in handcuffs.
Under intense pressure over the ugly scenes, the head of the force, Cressida Dick, rejected calls for her resignation, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had full confidence in her.
Patsy Stevenson – who was pictured being pinned to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by male officers in dramatic images that became a lightning rod for anger against the police – said on Monday she was dismayed at the turn of events.
“I accidentally went viral. I didn’t want this to happen. This happened like a whirlwind,” she said on Sky News.
“I’ve been thrown into the public eye and the only way I can make this not in vain is to not make it political, not against the police. It’s just about the safety of women and we need to talk about it,” she said.
An estimated 85,000 women are raped and more than 400,000 sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year, with only a tiny fraction of incidents leading to criminal convictions.
The most recent figures showed the conviction rate per rape allegation recorded by the police was 2.6%, a record low.
SAFETY VS FREEDOM?
Since Everard’s disappearance, many women have taken to social media to recount their own experiences of harassment and assault on Britain’s streets and to demand change.
One of the factors that turned the case into a rallying cry was the fact that police advised women near the spot where Everard went missing to stay at home for their own safety. This enraged many women who said the onus should be on men to change their behaviour, not on women to give up their freedoms.
“Too many of us have walked home from school or work alone, only to hear footsteps uncomfortably close behind us,” interior minister Priti Patel told parliament. “Too many of us have clutched our keys in our fists in case we needed to defend ourselves, and that is not OK.”
In a sign of the strength and breadth of feeling, the government has received 78,000 new responses to its appeal for evidence on violence against women, which was reopened on Friday in light of the reaction to the Everard case.
“That is completely unprecedented and considerably more than the 18,000 responses received over the entire 10-week period when the survey was previously opened,” said Patel.
She said the responses would help to shape a new government strategy on tackling violence against women that she would present later this year.
One of Everard’s friends, Helena Edwards, said the case had been “hijacked” by people with an agenda.
“Sarah was a victim of one of the most horrific crimes imaginable. She was extremely unlucky – that is all there is to it,” Edwards wrote in a blog, adding that if the suspect was found guilty, she would hold him alone responsible.