Our community has been deeply disturbed by the abduction of Sarah Everard. In response to Sarah’s disappearance, thousands of women planned to hold a peaceful, socially distanced vigil in Clapham Common Park to remember her and the thousands of women who have been victims of male violence.
The organisers of this event, Reclaim the Streets, had secured the support of Lambeth Council and local police to hold a COVID-secure event that would allow attendees to safely pay their respects. Unfortunately, just a day before the date, the Met Police decided to pull their support and Reclaim the Streets were forced to cancel the event, even though it was clear that hundreds of women would still attend.
This reflects a troubling situation where the Government has left police to arbitrate over whether or not protests should go ahead under the Coronavirus Act without explicitly giving them the power to put a blanket ban on protests during the pandemic.
In the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, I met with a number of local stakeholders, including Tulse Hill Women’s Forum, New Vision 4 Women and several local schools. I also addressed a London Labour-wide International Women’s Day event looking at the gendered impacts of the pandemic and discussed the impact of the Policing Bill.
The events of the past month have ignited a conversation about women’s safety and male violence against women. A recent YouGov survey found that 97% of women aged 18-24 have been sexually harassed and 80% of women of all ages have experienced sexual harassment in a public space.
These statistics are shocking, disgraceful and completely unacceptable. Women do not deserve to live in fear of their personal safety and urgent action must be taken to address the serious flaws in our society. This action must go beyond telling women to make “safer choices”, or wear “conservative clothing”.
The narrative must change. Male violence against women is not a female issue, it is a male issue, and it is the behaviours of men that must be addressed. The onus should not fall on women to change their behaviour to prevent becoming victims of an attack. Going forwards, I will push for solutions that address the deep social causes and political failings that allow gender-based violence to exist.
In the wake of such tragic event, I joined Church of the Holy Spirit Clapham for a service of prayer and protest to remember Sarah Everard and all the women we have lost to violence. Sarah’s murder has only strengthened the resolve of our community to tackle gender-based abuse and discrimination in all its forms.