What happened to Sarah Everard?
On the evening of March 3 2021, 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard disappeared in South London. She began walking home from a friend’s house but never made it home. A fear every woman knows.
Everard left Clapham and is believed to have walked through Clapham common, on her journey home to Brixton – a mere 50-minute journey by foot. She spoke to her boyfriend on her mobile phone for around 14 minutes and was last spotted in the footage of a doorbell camera at 9:28pm.
The next day, Everard’s boyfriend contacted the police to report her as a missing person, prompting a massive public appeal from the Lambeth arm of the London Metropolitan Police in tracing her whereabouts. Approximately 750 homes in south London were searched, as well as the ponds in Clapham Park before the search was extended to the county of Kent in south eastern England.
A suspect that shocked the nation
On March 9, the police made two arrests in connection with Everard’s disappearance. The first – a 48-year-old police constable, Wayne Couzens – was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping. The second was a woman in her 30s, Couzen’s wife, suspected of assisting an offender. Couzens had been with the Met police for two years. He was first posted in South London, but most recently served in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, a unit tasked with protecting the UK’s parliamentary estate and embassies in London. It is said that he was not on duty at the time of Everard’s disappearance, but is believed to have worked in south London that day.
According to reports in the Guardian and the New York Times, Couzens is also suspected of indecent exposure in a separate incident – the police watchdog is now investigating these allegations alongside the Everard disappearance.
On March 10, the police discovered bodily remains in a wooded area of Ashford town in Kent. On March 12, the body was identified as Everard through the use of dental records. Couzens was charged with kidnapping and murder that same day. He appeared at Westminster Magistrates on March 13 and was remanded in custody before appearing at the Old Bailey via video link from Belmarsh Prison on March 16. The plea hearing and provisional trail are set for July 9 and October 25.
Fury, fear and frustration among women
The disappearance and death of Sarah Everard and the arrest of a police officer accused of murdering her has sparked national outcry in the UK over violence against women. On March 10, a silent vigil was held outside the Metropolitan Police’s New Scotland Yard headquarters and another vigil for Sarah took place on Clapham Common on March 13. But the peaceful vigil was anything but. At around 6pm, the police decided to break up the crowd and forcibly arrest attendees. In doing so, police trampled over the flowers laid to pay respect to Everard in a move that the mayor of London called “neither appropriate or proportionate”. The assistant police commissioner, Helen Ball said the action was necessary because hundreds of people were packed tightly together and posed a very real risk of easily transmitting Covid-19 and the met police said that 26 police officers were assaulted. Home secretary Priti Patel has called for a full report on what happened.
The case has led to a fresh wave of fury, fear and frustration among women who see themselves akin to Sarah. And women all over the nation took to social media to voice their frustrations. A common theme in the responses populating social media was a sense of sombre stoicism at the horrifyingly familiar. According to a UN survey released this March, 97 per cent of British women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment, with 80 per cent of women aged 25 and older reporting the same. We hear these stories all the time.
As Everard’s case continues to dominate British headlines, women across the nation share how they live everyday fearing a similar fate. Not all men will harm women, but the torture isn’t just when the violence occurs, it’s in all the time spent waiting for it to happen. Society doesn’t know which men will hurt women, so we operate in constant fear, expecting it all the time and modifying our behaviour to avoid the worst. Women wrote of how they regularly kept their keys clenched in their firsts when walking at night, alerted family or friends of their location, pulled out strands of hair to leave on the back seat when taking an Uber, and constantly performed calculations as to the safety of their surroundings. That is why this case feels personal. There is a clear sense of resentment amongst women, who are tired of restricting how they live in order to protect themselves. Amid the fear and anger, one question stood out – why do women have to restrict their freedom in fear of violence?
Shifting the blame
Following Sarah’s disappearance, commenters have advised how best to avoid her fate. Avoid dimly lit paths and seek out well-lit roads. Don’t stay out too late at night. Don’t travel alone. Steer clear of wooded areas and parks. But women know fear and many of us already take these precautions. Getting women to modify our behaviour might seem like the easier and quicker option but this argument is ultimately flawed. Sarah Everard did everything ‘right’. She wore bright and modest clothing. She walked along a well-lit road. She called her boyfriend and notified him of her location. And in the end, it was the one person that should have kept her safe, a policeman, that hurt her. Sarah is the woman who did everything right and still died. Women are attacked regardless of the efforts made to avoid harm. There is no logic in making women responsible for dangerous men.
Long term, we need a society that treats people respectfully regardless of sex. But how do we get there? It will be an uphill battle, but right now, you can ask for your MP to vote to make misogyny a hate crime, ensuring that the justice system starts noticing the red flags early on. Support the Centre for Women’s Justice – a team of women lawyers taking on all of the justice system’s sexist flaws – because we need powers to understand and recognise the patterns of a dangerous man. To end a pattern of terrorised women, the justice system must start to look at how small acts can be the first steppingstones of men likely to act violent towards women. Small acts that are noted, filed and monitored could help stop these men and will provide the authorities with the information required to detect patterns of misogyny before it’s too late.