The murder of Sarah Everard highlights threats faced by minority women

On March 3rd, Sarah Everard, 33, disappeared in Clapham Common, London when she was walking home from a friend’s house. Her remains were found in the woodlands a week later and identified on March 12. Shortly after, a British police officer was charged with kidnapping and the murder of Sarah Everard. The horrible murder has highlighted the massive increase in violence against women all over the world in the past year. These violent attacks illustrate how safe spaces for women are shrinking and increased policing does not seem to have solved the issue. 

The story of Sarah Everard made front-page news, not only in the UK but all over Europe and America. As her story and picture were spreading, many people in the UK expressed their sorrows for the family, and rage towards her perpetrator. Young women across the country have been frustrated, shocked, and scared, collectively stating “Sarah could have been me.”  Her story further opened up social media for women to tell their own stories of gender-based violence and sexual harassment. Al Jazeera reports how female politicians from across the political spectrum shared their personal stories about experiences of sexual abuse and fears of walking alone at night, demanding that the government do more to make “the UK safer for women.” Additionally, the suspect, a London police officer, was previously reported on February 28th, for indecent exposure at a fast food takeaway restaurant, which he did not get arrested for. The failure of appropriate action being taken has caused further concerns about if Everard would still be alive. Welsh government adviser Yasmin Khan told Al Jazeera that poor police response to sexual predators is a “recurring theme,” further preventing many women from reporting. 

Although Everard’s murder captured the attention of the media in the UK and abroad, the vast majority of sexual harassment cases and deadly violence against women are still kept in the dark. In a recent survey from UN Women, the UK reports that 97 percent of women between 18-24 said they had been sexually harassed, and 80 percent of women of all ages said they had suffered sexual harassment in public areas. Additionally, the statistics about violent deaths are shocking: a woman is murdered every other day in the UK, with the vast majority killed by an intimate partner or an acquaintance. The government’s Office for National Statistics revealed that fewer than one in six women report crimes of sexual assault to the police. They also showed figures revealing that adults of Black and mixed ethnicity were more likely to experience sexual assault. These numbers illustrate how nearly every woman has experienced some form of sexual harassment, and it is crucial to highlight the expanding sexism and widening of gender-based violence. 

The murder of Sarah Everard made the public raise questions of the UK’s public institutions as to why prosecutions against sexual abusers remain low, highlighting the threats faced by women and girls from ethnic minority backgrounds. According to the Office of National Statistics, of almost 59,000 rape cases recorded in the year up to March 2020, there were just 2102 prosecutions. In 2019, this number was 3043, illustrating how prosecutions of rape charges are going down while cases keep going up. Adviser Yasmin Khan, who also founded the Halo Project; a support network for abused ethnic minority women and girls, explained how police discrimination is particularly evident in the response to minority victims of sexual abuse. She said the Halo Project has revealed police prejudice against minority victims and alleged that police forces across the UK were failing victims. Cases of sexual abuse among ethnic minorities rarely achieve justice because police forces across the UK lack cultural understanding and have “a fear of offending communities,” Al Jazeera reports. The report further revealed that police officers look at culture and race before protecting and safeguarding. 

Ultimately, sharing painful and difficult stories as well as exposing the details of the violence and the fear most women have at some point experienced is crucial. Essentially, we must insist that men change their behavior and that governments enforce harder laws against sexual harassment and assault. However, the solution to systemic and structural sexism does not start nor end with either our government or the public, but in the complete transformation of our societies. It is critical that we reconsider the social construction of gender norms and patriarchal hierarchies. Changing cultural and societal attitudes and patterns is not going to happen overnight, but the female population should not be suffering over our society’s inability to grow and improve safety.

Olivia Berntsson