Public safety, popular opinion and legislature is becoming increasinly mis-aligned. How much more will it take?

By Gabrielle Jones: Political Columnist

The omnipresence of fear in a woman’s life is something that it takes years to realise is abnormal.

Millions of stories from women over the last few weeks have recounted what measures they take when walking home, getting a taxi, or taking public transport (to name a few mundane activities) to protect themselves; as there is the indisputable, latent, fear of violence perpetrated by the spectre which is always in the form of a man. 

This common hum of anxiety has been given the name ‘rape anxiety’ by some, but whatever technical name it is given the feeling is fear. The abduction and murder of Sarah Everard has incited overwhelming feelings of grief, sadness, and rage. Sarah is the centre of this story, and her as an individual should not be lost within the discourse. But among the mourning for Sarah, the conversation necessarily turned to what this shows us about the reality of women living in the shadowy fear of male violence.

Chief Met commissioner Cressida Dick quickly announced that it is extremely rare to be abducted off the streets in the U.K – a statement with obvious intent to ease rising anxiety about public safety.

Abductions of the kilter of Sarah Everard’s may be rare but what is not rare, are the rates and frequency that women suffer violence at the hands of men in the UK. The femicide census showed that a woman is killed by a man every 3 days in the UK.  The Guardian reported last week that 97% of young women in the UK had experienced sexual assault; rape convictions have fallen to record low levels despite rape offenses increasing drastically in the last 10 years.

What happened to Sarah Everard is the physical realisation of the parasitic fear that claws at women daily, nightly, and indefinitely. The murder of Sarah is upheld by a pyramidal structure of violence, starting with catcalls in the street, a man in a night club un-consensually groping a woman and co-ercion into sex – nothing exists within a vacuum, and these everyday violations build the culture in which Sarah’s murder resonates with so much of the population as something that could happen to them. This is the acutely distressing evidence that the baggage of fear women carry around with them is not unfounded.

Who do we grieve for?

What else is important to recognise, is that there is a disparity between how society grieves for different women.

The case of Blessing Olusegun has regained attention in the media to demonstrate the contrast between the grief felt for white victims. Blessing was 21 when she was found dead on a beach in Sussex, in September 2020. Determined as an ‘unexplained death’ by Sussex police, despite significant mystery surrounding the circumstances that lead to her being found.

Thousands of people have signed a petition demanding justice for Blessing, arguing that her death is flagrantly suspicious and a dismissal of her case amounting to a gross miscarriage of justice. Supported by statistics and real life stories of institutionalised racism and misogyny in the police, campaigners have stated how this is a demonstration of the perceived dispensability of BAME women, whose deaths do not make significant news, and are not given thorough investigation. Blessing is not the only example.

Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry were stabbed to death by a man in a London park in June 2020, but these names will mostly go unrecognised also.

Connecting the dots

In the same week of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Oprah interview, it would be a mistake to not see the connections between the stream of abuse directed at Meghan and the violence that women experience every day.

Former Good Morning Britain host Piers Morgan claimed that Meghan Markle was lying about her own mental health experiences, but Morgan was not the only person to make these remarks – thousands of tweets and hundreds of media outlets such as the Daily Mirror and Daily Mail, have peddled the narrative that Meghan Markle is a conniving liar.

This is the wall of disbelief that women are faced with. Coming forward with your experiences is infected with the fear of incredulity. The fact that this rhetoric plays out everywhere with pernicious repetition: in the thousands of women who report sexual assault allegations, all the way to the elite echelons of the British Royals is evidence that misogyny is all-pervading and needs to be recognised as the crisis which it is.

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