Hearing Sarah Everard’s story ignited the same fire in me that my own instances of having experienced violence did. That passionate anger burns your edges, eats at your insides and you just hope and pray that you may find a reasonable way to channel it, lest you do something regretful. My heart is so heavy. It feels like there is lead in my chest. How many human beings will we lose to gender based violence? How many mothers, sisters, daughters and wives will feel the spite in angry words, the misplaced shame and wrath of a blow? How many will take a last breath at the hands of cold, calculated evil personified? An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. That’s what we’ve always been told.
Misogyny isn’t the exception in our society- it’s still the rule. There is nothing like the female body to bring out misogynistic entitlement at its worst. We need to dispel the societal preoccupation with cold, unfeeling, macho males. Being a respectful, decent man does not make you less than. I pray that one day we’ll collectively reach a point where this is the norm. Men who show respect no longer represent a standout or ideal. They just know what is right. There was never a question about it. Choose to challenge and dismantle the patriarchy.
Sarah Everard’s story has shaken us all to the core, as it should. The uproar, the uprising, the flurry of media response. We will always be interconnected to these these women, privy and empathetic to their experiences. We are them. We are women in a world increasingly designed for men. You either blend in or stick out like a sore thumb. There is no in between, no grey scale. The reason we are able to commit such atrocities against others does not stem from our dehumanising them, against common belief.
Part of Hitler’s Nazi propaganda regime revolved around stifling the voice of the Jewish people and portraying them as a threat. One of their slogans was “You will not overtake us!” which is not in keeping with their supposed philosophy of racial superiority. The Germans, point blank, were threatened by the significant humanity they saw in the Jewish people. In their ability to love, to hate, to aid, destroy, prosper and more. Human beings can be fickle and unpredictable, after all. Hitler successfully established a totalitarian society under which he ruled and control. Under the right circumstances, he converted the beliefs and philosophies of an entire country of people to mimic his teachings and pass them down. His circle of hatred was perpetuated by the communities of people who echoed his message and took their leader at face value.
Likewise, in today’s society, we are as much the problem as we are the solution. As a woman, I have carried through the years many heartbreaking stories of my own. I can only imagine what the woman next to me has gone through. The only difference is that unlike Sarah Everard, we sit here today. Sarah was too young to leave this world. Her light should never have been snuffed out. It is unforgivable, implausible. Growing up, I never felt as if the police were an ally. My interactions with them were unpleasant at best. I didn’t feel seen, heard, believed.
I saw no action on their part, no attempt to right any wrongs. They just wanted to rush me out of their office. I opened up an official case a while ago after being touched inappropriately by my driving instructor. I was told I’d hear back the next week and never did. My driving instructor was a man in his late forties who’d placed his hand on my upper thigh and called me a good girl. I was driving on the motorway for the first time, the road slick with rain. He had been asking me strange questions for weeks on end. Did I have an older brother? How religious was my dad?
The police officer, a woman, asked me what I was wearing on the day it happen. She asked me if I was mistaken, if he was being friendly or guiding me in some manner. Perhaps I was twisting the situation? Recollections may differ. She reminded me to be truthful and make no serious accusation I couldn’t back up. Her and the accompanying male officer promised to pay him a visit. A few weeks later, I saw him pick up another student outside of my apartment complex.
It is these untrue, irrelevant and highly damaging narratives that we give into when it comes to other women and their purity, their inherent worth. We feed into a culture where abusers, rapists and murderers have status. We argue away their crimes, seek to understand them, apply reason, grapple with cause and effect. We justify the unjustifiable and leave criminals genuinely believing that they don’t need to be held accountable. Or, worse, that a mere, baseless apology holds the key to forgiveness. A proper apology and actionable redemption go hand in hand. What happens when you step into the realm of unknowns and cannot turn back though?
I don’t want to say that Sarah Everard did all the right things because it should never be a safety requirement that women bring protective gear on a walk. Quite frankly, I don’t think there is a right thing to do to protect yourself. When I was raped I wore a large, puffy fur coat and pants. It was two pm on a weekday during the school holidays. We were in a shopping centre, right next to a restaurant with clear glass walls. Yet it happened anyway. There are too many stories that don’t fit the violence checklist. Sarah Everard should have stepped foot in her home that night, embraced her partner and headed to bed. She shouldn’t have been abducted and murdered in cold blood by a police officer. What an unfathomable injustice and hideous misuse of power.
The reality is that Sarah Everard, a woman who sadly felt it necessary to wear running shoes, bright clothing and call a loved one whilst walking home, likely felt an initial sense of comfort at seeing a figure she could reasonably assume was on the right side of the law. In that very moment, her fears would have been somewhat quelled, her heart rate would have lowered, her pace slowed. She would have let her guard down, acted in vulnerability. That is where the most haunting aspect of the crime lies- in the deception.
What did Sarah Everard have to believe in during those final, fatal moments of her life? What ran through her mind as reality dawned on her and friend turned to foe? Societies predators go to cafes, organise play dates, take kids to school, come home in time for dinner, work long hours, sleep in too much, make it to the gym everyday, wear blue uniforms. That’s why it’s on us to report what’s out of the ordinary. To speak up when something so much as toes the line of indecency. To be on the high path of morality and use our intuitions wisely. We can wear date rape nail polish, carry pepper spray, take a well lit path, conceal a small weapon for self defence purposes, pretend to have a boyfriend, stash away our headphones to avoid distractions, glance furtively to the right, left and over our shoulders, run away from vans with blacked out windows, say no to strangers handing out candy and it still won’t be good enough.
We must never shy away from having tough conversations, from calling out and correcting inappropriate behaviours that will only escalate in the future. We will start by demonstrating respect for the women in our life, whether we are men or other women like her. We will not tease girls because we like them. We will not flick bra straps or pinch bums or make jokes that we wouldn’t in front of our mother. We will not use sexist or derogatory language. We will call out our mates when necessary, find ways to raise the esteem and self love of our gal pals. We will put intimate partners in their place and dictate our terms of engagement. We will crystallise the concept of consent. We will turn off objectifying music, demand equal pay, leave half the cooking, washing and child minding to our male partners.
This is an ideal world and, on some level, it is a realistic one. We must be the change we wish to see. Sarah Everard, may you Rest In Power. Thank you for your impact, for your wake up call. While the justice system knows one less criminal now, I am so sorry it had to come to this. Please know that you are not a statistic. These invaluable conversations, the donations to worthy causes on your behalf, this flurry of positive action, the reprimanding of yet another man who defiles women and plays God- this is your legacy.
A woman once asked a male friend why men feel threatened by women. He replied that they were afraid women may laugh at them. When she asked a group of women why they felt threatened by men, they said “We’re afraid they may kill us.”
As usual, I’d like to leave you this week with an uplifting message from Morgan Harper Nichols Storyteller App. This week’s series revolves around finding the courage to go on. I’d say it’s very fitting in these troubling, uncharted times. Sending much love and light to all of my beautiful friends. May goodness and love find you this week and may your heart seek refuge in boundless peace and grace.
Perhaps fear has taught you how to stay alive but perhaps courage can show you how to come alive more than ever before. Perhaps saying “yes” to this adventure will be the most terrifying thing you ever do but maybe your heart is beating for more and all of this is going to shape you. Perhaps this is the time to say what you have meant to say and go into the depths of “I don’t know what will happen, but I will carry on, anyway” as you choose to live and love boldly even without the closure of yesterday.
You have been let down before. You have practical reasons for being afraid. But I hope you know there is still life beyond your fears. There is still time and space to come alive, as you are, right here. Remember, sometimes courage is subtle. Sometimes it looks like climbing a mountain and sometimes it’s a gradual softening into forgiveness. Sometimes it’s creating boundaries. Sometimes it’s putting up walls. Courage will look, taste, and feel different for us all.
The important thing is to do what you do for the purpose of love. For joy. For peace that goes beyond understanding. Do what you do with a mind ready to learn, a heart prepared to grow and a soul willing to be still, despite all of the chaos you cannot control. You will not be able to travel this path perfectly, but grace will meet you here. Every day, you will be free to begin again, no matter what you have feared.
I believe courage can be many things for us and one of those things is our teachers. When we take the leap of faith, we do not know the outcome but we know we will learn and grow either way. Perhaps it is through our courage to live and love that we mature and grow in wisdom. Slowly, we begin to see that even though a healthy dose of fear kept us alive, it was courage that helped us thrive.
Always remember this about courage: If you’ve been made to feel like only the big moments of courage matter, I hope you know that every single breath you breathe is proof that you are finding your way in this. You are doing more than just existing. You are filling this space with life. And every moment you choose to hope is a moment you choose to thrive.
Because just when you thought you could not get any stronger, you woke up this morning and realised that you managed to hold on a little longer. You managed to make it a bit further than you ever thought you would, even on the days where it was a fight to notice the good. And by grace, you are still here, through the wild of all those fears. You made it here. You made it another year.
And even though you cannot make sense of the shadows that always seem to find you, you are still an example of the beautiful truth that Light has this way of finding you. Even when you do not feel seen or heard and you struggle to put the feelings into words, breathing, merely breathing, is a sign of hope all on its own. Even in the loneliest seasons of life, you are never breathing alone. You are never breathing alone. Somehow, we all exhale. We all sing that song. Somehow, we are all learning to come alive, right here, right where we are.