The tragic death of Sarah Everard has sparked widespread outrage and debate about violence against women. But why are we only starting to pay attention now, when the experiences of those most affected are consistently overlooked?
[Content warning: sexual violence, rape, transphobia, racism] The story of Sarah Everard’s murder hit close to home for women everywhere. It could have been me, many of us thought. Sadly, as the statistics related to violence against women show, our fears are justified.
A recent survey revealed that 97% of women aged 18-24 have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. In England and Wales, rape conviction rates sit at a record low, with a paltry 1 in 70 chances of prosecution. Globally, 1 in 3 women and girls have experienced sexual violence. It may be #notallmen, but it’s scarily close to being #allwomen.
Not all trauma trends
It is right to be outraged by the murder of Sarah Everard. Her story deserves our attention. Her loved ones deserve justice. Above all, she did not deserve this.
On Instagram, #saraheverard currently has nearly 40,000 posts, painting a picture of an urgent outcry for change. But what is less visible among these posts are the countless stories of the ‘forgotten’ women: women of colour, disabled women, sex workers, asylum seekers, trans women and so many others who are disproportionately affected by male violence.
Take for instance the murder of Blessing Olusegun. Blessing was 21 years old when her body was discovered in East Sussex last September. Although her story is strikingly similar to Sarah’s, it went largely unreported by the media.
The fear of sexual violence is something most women can relate to, regardless of race. But the reality is that Black women are the most affected by it. Over 20% of Black women are raped in their lifetime—a much higher share than women overall. They are also 2.5x more likely to be murdered by men than their White counterparts.
We cannot White-wash the fight against male violence. Nor can we centre the issue around cis women’s experiences. Transgender women, and particularly transgender women of colour, experience significantly higher rates of rape and other sexual assault—yet their stories are far less likely to be reported by mainstream media.
Marginalised groups have literally been marching for their lives for years. Where, then, was our collective outrage? If only we had listened sooner, perhaps fewer lives would be lost.
What’s the solution?
Violence against women can’t be solved by women. It can’t be solved by staying sober, dressing conservatively, texting a friend when you get home, or crossing the street. Instead, it requires those who hold the most power and privilege in our society to take a good, hard look at the systems that oppress women and their role within them. After all, to achieve a truly equal and safer society, we must start by demanding safety and rights for the most marginalised.
Men, we implore you: do the work. Don’t expect the women in your life to do it for you. Listen to women. Believe them. Stop trying to compare your experiences. Learn about misogyny, rape culture and toxic masculinity. Read about gender equality and gender roles. Call out that friend who makes a sexist comment. Educate your sons about consent. Sit in the discomfort of it all. You might be a decent guy, but you’re not exempt from this fight.
Women, do not stay silent. Use your voice to demand better. Protest. Be angry. And White cis women, listen to the experiences of Black and Brown women, trans women, disabled women, and women from other marginalised groups. Be inclusive in your fight for women’s rights.
How to access support
If you have experienced abuse or sexual violence, there are several national and local services that can help. Here is a full list of services available within Glasgow.
If you are in immediate danger, please call 999.
Campaigners have created a petition calling on Sussex Police to establish what happened to Blessing Olusegun. Sign it here.