Elizabeth Day: The news that left me speechless
Styling: Holly Elgeti. Make-up: Nicky Weir using Hourglass. Hair: Alex Szabo at Carol Hayes using T3
There are some news stories that take a while to sink in. For days after the sentencing of a serving Metropolitan policeman for the horrific kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard, I was speechless.
I was speechless thinking of the ceaseless nightmare Sarah’s family must be enduring as they come to terms with what happened to their beloved girl.
I was speechless thinking of her boyfriend and her friends who had been so instrumental in launching the search to find her after she disappeared.
I was speechless thinking of how unfathomably cruel, how inexpressibly tragic it was that Sarah Everard did everything right as she walked home that night. She wore bright clothing. She called a loved one. She didn’t leave it too late. She stopped when pulled over by a police officer who showed her his warrant card. She abided by the rules.
Her good sense was repaid with unimaginable violence. I was speechless when the Metropolitan Police then issued advice to women walking home to challenge lone police officers and to ‘wave down a bus’ if they felt their safety was being threatened. Really? That’s what they decided to say at that time? Rather than launching a root-and-branch investigation into the systemic failings of the Met’s vetting procedures, they chose to make it a woman’s responsibility? Wow.
We must take all forms of harassment seriously
Instead of asking why (predominantly male) perpetrators keep killing women, we are the ones who are told to protect ourselves against male rage, as if the rage itself is a fact we must live with. But it isn’t – or at least, it shouldn’t be. Challenging this fact starts with taking all forms of harassment and violence against women seriously. That includes indecent exposure. That includes groping. That includes sexual assault. That includes emotional and physical abuse and coercive control.
For a while, I felt such sadness and fury that I couldn’t speak to anyone about it. It was as if, by putting words to what had happened, we made it more real. But of course, it was real. We couldn’t make it not so. There was no way to ignore this darkness.
It was already enveloping us. I, like many women, have been made to feel unsafe on the streets. Once, in my 20s, I was mugged by four young men who grabbed my laptop and slashed a bag
I was carrying with a blade. I was pushed against a wall by one of them, who held me there by my neck and hit me across the head with his forearm. I would not give up my handbag, which contained my keys and phone. Now, I think how stupid that was. I should have given them everything. They had a knife.
But for whatever reason, I didn’t let go. Eventually, they ran off. I fell to the pavement in a state of shock then limped the few hundred yards back to my front door. A shoe had fallen off in the scuffle. I remember seeing it, lying on the road and thinking how odd it was that I hadn’t screamed.
I didn’t raise my voice once. I was so shocked, I endured the whole attack in silence. This was the thing that surprised me most afterwards. It was a residential street. The chances are, if I’d shouted someone might have come to my aid. But I was too scared to do so. We never know how we are going to react in an extreme situation. Advice about what to do in a crisis can only take us so far.
It is never the responsibility of the victim of violence to stop what is happening to them. It is the responsibility of the perpetrator and, beyond that, of the institutions and society that have shaped them and allowed them to get away with it for centuries. I’m so sorry, Sarah. We failed you. And I wish we hadn’t.
This week I’m…
Wearing this Semper femina (translation: always a woman) cashmere-blend sweater. £185, orwellausten.com
Re-reading Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. A brilliant book. £11.94, amazon.co.uk
Donating to the Stand With Us Fund, supporting women whose lives have been devastated by male violence. See rosauk.org