Sarah Everard murder spoke to fear ‘that there’s nothing we can do to keep safe’

People gather at the bandstand on Clapham Common after the vigil for Sarah Everard was cancelled (PA Wire)
12:54pm, Fri 09 Jul 2021
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The murder of Sarah Everard resonated with so many women because it spoke to the fear and anger “that there’s nothing we can do to keep ourselves safe”, a Labour MP has said.

Jess Phillips said she feels “a certain sense of relief” for the 33-year-old’s family after Wayne Couzens pleaded guilty to kidnapping, raping and murdering her.

She told the PA news agency: “When I say I’m relieved, it’s because I’m used to these sorts of murders being diminished, and so I’m glad that Sarah Everard’s family have potentially been spared a long and lengthy and very public trial.”

Ms Phillips said people have become more aware of violence against women and girls during the coronavirus pandemic.

We can't just let these moments pass, as if ‘Oh, it’s just another case’ - we have to see it in the round of why women aren't safe, and do everything that we can ... we actually need proper structural change

Asked why she believes the case has resonated with so many people, she said: “It’s the universal experience of a woman walking home, that we’ve all felt that fear, we’ve all been frightened that there was a man like Wayne Couzens who was going to kill us.

“Because, ultimately, women have to live their lives quite a lot of the time, whether that’s at work or on the streets or at home, sort of with a certain level of accepted violence against them, and Sarah Everard walking home, the story of her speaking to her boyfriend and taking a well-lit and busy route, it spoke to the idea that women try and do everything to keep themselves safe … and I suppose the response to her killing was that we’ve done everything, we’ve risk-assessed, we’ve called our mates, we put trackers on our phones, and still this can happen at the hands of a police officer.

“So it speaks to all sorts of fears that we have bubbling away in the background and the anger that there’s nothing we can do to keep ourselves safe.”

Women’s safety campaign (PA Wire)

But she said that, despite the outpouring of grief following Ms Everard’s death, very little has changed legislatively.

“We can’t just let these moments pass, as if ‘Oh, it’s just another case’ – we have to see it in the round of why women aren’t safe, and do everything that we can, not just lip service, not just coming up with a policy about putting plain-clothed police officers in pubs, we actually need proper structural change.”

Ms Phillips is calling for a thorough review of how domestic homicides and violence against women are treated in the courts, and said more work must be done to ensure the early indicators of potentially dangerous behaviour are not overlooked.

Violence against women will continue to be a main focus of her work as an MP “until women no longer feel they have to wear trackers”, she said, adding: “We are a long, long, long way off that.”

Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice, said there should be a “full public inquiry into police failures and misconduct and the wider culture of misogyny” following Couzens’ guilty plea and the recent guilty verdict in the murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in Wembley by Danyal Hussein.

She said: “As protesters made clear, women do not feel safe and it is incumbent on the Government and all criminal justice agencies to now take action over the epidemic of male violence which is the other public health crisis of our day.”

Reclaim These Streets, the original organisers of the vigil for Ms Everard, tweeted: “Whilst we are relieved that Sarah’s friends and family have been spared the ordeal of a trial, nothing will ever bring her back.

“It is maddening that if women get any justice at all it is only when they have already been taken away from us.

“We will never stop campaigning until we live in a society where women’s safety is more of a priority than protecting statues and limiting our right to protest.”

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