How Much Longer Can Women Live Like This?
In response to the news that a police officer has been arrested on suspicion of the murder of Sarah Everard, Sian Norris reflects on why women have responded with such sadness and rage
In 1977, a violent man murdered 13 women and attempted to murder seven more in and around Leeds.
In response, the police told women to stay at home. If a dangerous man was on the streets, then a woman’s place was indoors.
So women marched. They demanded that men were put under curfew. They said that, if men were killing women, it was men who needed to change – not women. They’d had enough.
In 2010, in my role as a feminist activist in Bristol, I was arguing with police officers who, following the disappearance and murder of Joanna Yeates, had told women not to walk home after dark. It was December and was dark at 4pm.
Joanna Yeates was killed in her own home by her neighbour. Where, exactly, were women supposed to go?
Like generations of women before us, we marched that year, too. We said that, if men were killing women, it was men who needed to change. We’d had enough.
Yesterday, the disappearance of Sarah Everard became a murder investigation and, once again, women were told not to walk home alone. The police were clear with women: don’t walk outside after dark, stay indoors. The one freedom we’re allowed in lockdown? Forget it. Keep yourself safe.
The murder investigation comes only two weeks after a man was sentenced for manslaughter for killing his wife in their home. He blamed the stress of lockdown. He got five years.
Where, exactly, are women supposed to go?
‘Don’t Take the Risk’
A familiar cycle has played out in the wake of this horrible event: women have expressed their sadness, we have shared our own experiences, we have bared our pain – and we have been met with men declaring their outrage.
It’s not all men. It’s not me. So many men are decent and kind.
Yes, but not the ones who decide to trample on women’s voices by shouting “not me”.
Other men took to social media to say how sad they were as fathers of daughters and husbands of wives – as if women’s worth can only be measured by our relationship to men. Don’t remind us how little you cared for women before.
And we have men tutting at women’s behaviour, saying that unlocked cars get stolen and open windows attract burglars – as if women’s bodies in public are nothing more than objects to take, abuse and destroy.
Don’t take the risk, we are told – as if doing what men do unthinkingly and freely is a ‘risk’.
What men, with their victim-blaming warnings and police officers with their safety campaigns, never seem to realise is that women do all of this anyway. We take the detour. We leave places early. We pay for cabs we can’t afford. We text each other to say we’re home. We already live under an unofficial curfew. Women have been living in a form of lockdown for a long time.
Women already do everything ‘right’ – and it doesn’t save us. We get cabs because cabs are safe – until the cab driver is a rapist. John Worboys was able to rape up to 100 women. Police didn’t believe the first woman who reported it or the second.
We are told to report incidents, as a duty, to keep others safe – but we report and are met with disbelief. I know a police officer who told a domestic violence survivor that her abuser was a broken man – as if she had ruined him by going to the police. Women who are raped have a one in 70 chance of seeing their rapist convicted, while their WhatsApp archives are raked over; their choice of underwear scrutinised in court; their stated sexual preferences used to prove that they are somehow unrapeable.
Then there are the men who take down our statements – police officers who may be killers; who may have taken selfies with murdered women’s bodies; whose sympathy lies with the abuser. Police officers who are abusers themselves.
They Had Names
It has emerged that the police officer arrested on suspicion of murder is also facing an allegation of indecent exposure. This is a disturbing echo of the conviction last month of Pawel Relowicz for the murder of Libby Squire. He too had a history of indecent exposure. Male violence doesn’t emerge from nowhere. There are almost always other offences.
Women report those offences, but we aren’t believed. The men get off and the violence continues.
But, last night, something else happened. A raw expression of rage ricocheted across women’s social media. They organised open letters, vigils, campaigns. Women told men to just stop talking over women and blaming them. I texted my best friend: “Women are DONE.”
It is time to harness that rage. It is time to say no more.
Because women are sick and tired and sad – but most of all we are angry. How many more times do we have to put up with warning signs being ignored? How many more times do we have to be told that “isolated incidents” aren’t “isolated” at all? How many more times do we have to be told to restrict our freedoms, make our lives smaller, because some men choose to hurt and kill women? How much longer can women live like this?
It feels like a moment not unlike last summer, when the killing of George Floyd sparked protests around the world. Male violence against women and girls cuts across race and class – but we cannot and must not ignore that murders of black, marginalised and working-class women rarely get the media attention we are seeing in this case. Most murders of women are so common, so pedestrian, that they barely register a media ripple.
The rage we are seeing now is not a ripple and it is not confined to one demographic. This rage could be a tsunami.
Rose Marie Tinton
And three unnamed women
With thanks to Karen Ingala-Smith for recording the names so we never forget that these women are people, not statistics.