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Sarah Everard and the Atlanta shooting are reminders that women are not safe

SHARE Sarah Everard and the Atlanta shooting are reminders that women are not safe

People gather to view and read inscriptions on floral tributes for Sarah Everard, at the bandstand in Clapham Common, London, on March 16, 2021. A body found in woodland south of London was identified as 33-year old Sarah Everard, who went missing while walking home on March 3, and a serving police officer stands charged with her kidnap and murder.

Jonathan Brady, Associated Press

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old who was abducted off the streets of London, did everything a woman is advised to in order to stay safe in a city — wearing identifiable clothing, staying in busy areas, talking to someone on the phone — but that didn’t stop her from disappearing and her body being discovered days later. Even worse, the alleged perpetrator is a police officer, the very person sworn to protect her from harm. 

Then news broke of the shootings in Atlanta where minority women were the primary victims. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “The killings claimed the lives of four women born in Korea, two from China, a mother getting a massage with her husband and a handyman originally from Detroit.”

Twice, the more vicious dangers of misogyny were illuminated and had many women around the country pondering their safety. 

Women’s History Month in March was meant to be a celebration of women’s accomplishments and contributions. But it’s hard to feel celebratory each week when the headlines cover a story that put a glaring spotlight on dangers for women.

Earlier this month Aubrey Eyre and I discussed the lingering barriers facing women in the workforce. I’ve commented on the future of women post-COVID-19 and the need for their contributions to economies across the globe. 

In all of these I have touched on how remaining sexism can be a detriment to female progress, which in turn hinders progress for all of us. But I have not dived deeply into the reality that every woman has had to grapple with the need to constantly look over their shoulder. 

No, women do not walk around with wide eyes, clutching their pearls to keep from fainting. On the contrary. Most of us go about our daily routine without thinking about being in danger. 

Then we are faced with the reminder that simply being a woman can make you a target. And we remember. 

I remember the night a man started riding circles around me on a bicycle when I was walking home from a concert, and it took another group of people coming by and intervening to make him leave. 

I remember the first time I was catcalled — when I was just 12 — and the feeling of shame that came with it. 

I remember how I changed the route I walked to work just two years ago when a man started waiting on the same corner every morning and would follow me and ask prying questions. 

I remember being nervous to walk through the underpass to the train station in the fall and winter, when it was already dark by the time I left the office. 

The fear is not always a dominant feeling, but it’s always tethered in the subconscious.

One in 3 women experience sexual violence involving physical contact during their lifetime. That means that even if every woman “does everything right” there is a strong chance she will be a victim. It means that, statistically, each of us know multiple victims. 

No, not all men are perpetrators, but it sure seems like it’s just about every woman feels impacted. So how can we tell the difference? I once saw a video that illustrated the point well: Not all bees will sting you and not all spiders or snakes will bite. But the majority of us avoid all bees, snakes and spiders — just in case. 

When it could be a family member, a friend, a complete stranger or even a police officer, it feels as though there is no safe place. We can’t blame the victim for getting stung. 

Women have been the victims of this warped thinking, and the responsibility for their safety cannot rest on their shoulders alone. We must all work to eradicate the menacing behaviors and thoughts that continue to manifest in brutal ways. 

Where does the problem-solving start? Certainly in the home to a large degree, where children are taught and observe such ideas and behaviors. And in the media, where women are still often portrayed in two-dimensional, stereotypical ways that are a result of the male gaze.

We emulate what we see. If we do not see victims being treated seriously or healthy examples of equality and respect, then how can one expect things to change? 

With the right approach, existing problems can still be fixed and future ones can be prevented. 

March, as Women’s History Month, was a great reminder of how capable and valuable women have always been, but it was simultaneously an example of how, despite those achievements, there is room for progress.

Sarah Everard was the epitome of the everyday woman — one that we all know and love. A vibrant young marketing executive in a busy city with a loving family, boyfriend and friends. We all know — or are — a Sarah.

Her loss has reignited a movement that, if successful, can make the world better for our own loved ones. For everyday women, we must make every day safer.