After seeing her memorials all over social media, it’s hard to believe that 33-year-old Sarah Everard was alive just last month. She was walking home from a friend’s house in London and somewhere 50 miles from where she was last seen, she was abducted and murdered. Her alleged killer, Wayne Couzens, was arrested on these charges less than a week ago. He shouldn’t be too unfamiliar with what he’s going up against, as he’s a member of the London police force. Not to mention, he was also accused of indecent exposure, on two separate occasions, just three days before her disappearance.
One thing that I’ve been seeing a lot is that Sarah did everything “right.” She wore brightly colored clothing, she let loved ones know where she was and she even called her boyfriend as she was walking to ensure safety. None of that mattered. Even if it did, no one should have to fit in such a narrow category in order to make home alive.
Rather than do the right thing and teach effective lessons about consent and the extent of violence against women and female-presenting individuals, we skirt around the issue. Instead we teach lessons like “don’t stay out late,” “watch your drinks,” “ignore catcalls” and “place your trust wisely” — I mean, you never know how close someone will be to you when they assault you. I certainly didn’t.
The fact that her killer is a police officer only adds another awful layer to an already horrific case — one that’s representative of a broken rape culture. The second Couzens was accused of indecent exposure should’ve been the second he was removed from active duty. Countless instances of racially motivated police brutality have shown us time and time again that the system is broken, in a way that feels beyond repair. This is yet another reason why.
In the United States, it’s not illegal that police have “consensual” sex with detainees in 34 states. The number of states alone is shocking, but the fact that such an encounter would even remotely be considered “consensual,” given the power dynamics involved, is laughable. Approximately 40 percent of police families have experienced domestic abuse and there have been over 400 rapes reported at the hands of officers in a nine-year period from 2005 to 2013. Police officers, who in this country are nearly 90 percent male, clearly abuse their power time and time again. This isn’t even taking into account the countless anecdotes shared on social media regarding victims of sexual violence and the lack of respect or care they received when they came forward to report their experiences.
My heart aches for Sarah and her family, and I hope that she receives swift and powerful justice. It’s still worth noting that a large part of the reason she received such massive amounts of media attention is because she was a young, pretty, white, blonde woman. So many victims outside that window aren’t so lucky. This week alone saw six Asian women murdered, out of eight people total, in a ruthless and violent rampage, fueled clearly by racism, misogyny and anti-Asian sentiment. Murder and sexual assault of Indigenous women is 10 times the national average. For an even more stark comparison, Blessing Olusegun, a 21-year-old Black woman, also living in England, was found dead on a beach on East Sussex last September. It is only following the social media outrage of Everard’s case, and the now visible inequalities between the two, that her case has been brought to the forefront. No arrests have been made. The time difference between her case’s progress and Everard’s speaks volumes. Not enough people are speaking out for these women and countless others — it’s pretty clear that the police aren’t particularly interested in taking their cases seriously either, even less so when they may be involved directly.
Violence against women is not only a worldwide issue, it is a deeply systemic one. The structures we trust to uphold our society — police, education, even legislature — seem to be wildly against holding these perpetrators accountable. I’m tired. Everyone I know impacted by this is tired. Why do we have to follow so many rules to keep ourselves safe, when time and time again, it doesn’t seem to matter? Why don’t more people speak up? Why should my clothing be my last line of defense against sexual violence? Why are women of color so harshly left out of the conversations of both racial and gender-based justice? While I think we know the answers to these questions, it’s exhausting to constantly feel that sexual violence is just inevitable during your lifetime.
To the men reading this column — I know that most of you are good people. Of course “not all men” commit these kinds of heinous acts of violence. I know that, and I’m certain you do too. However, if you don’t check your friends, if you ignore the attitudes of those around you toward women, you are letting this happen. It shouldn’t have to be until your friend, sister or girlfriend comes forward. Your voice needs to be heard now. We shouldn’t have to “do everything right” in order to receive justice. We deserve that across the board. If you remain silent, you are only worsening the problem.
Elizabeth Short is a senior majoring in English and is Opinions Editor.