Sarah Everard is Forcing Men to Reckon With Violence Against Women

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Posters requesting information are seen near Clapham Common in London, during an investigation into the disappearance of Sarah Everard who went missing March 3.
Posters requesting information are seen near Clapham Common in London, during an investigation into the disappearance of Sarah Everard who went missing March 3. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Over the past 48 hours, an emotional outpouring has flooded Twitter, the likes of which has not been seen since the international #MeToo uprising of 2017.

This week, British women have once again been sharing stories about assault, harassment and the ever-present fear that comes with moving through public spaces. And they're doing it because of Sarah Everard—a 33-year-old woman who disappeared while walking home in South London on March 3. A police officer has since been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

Multiple observers have noted that Everard met a violent end despite taking an abundance of precautions. The marketing executive left her friend's house at an early hour, stuck to main roads and wore brightly-colored, sensible walking gear. Still, the human remains that police discovered a week later, 56 miles away in Kent, were identified as Sarah Everard on Friday morning.

In the United States, the case is a reminder to many of us of Amie Harwick. The therapist was murdered in her Los Angeles home in February 2020, despite taking out multiple restraining orders against her ex-boyfriend. She'd spent her career counseling survivors of domestic violence and educating women about maintaining safe boundaries. Everard, like Harwick, did everything right. The fact that it wasn't enough to keep her safe has left women across the UK reeling.

Sky News journalist Kate McCann posted a thread on Twitter that captured the national mood. "We take the longer, better-lit route," she wrote, "but still we make a plan. Keys gripped between fingers, we map the corner shops we could duck into en-route."

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The grief and outrage for Sarah Everard is now so widespread that when #NotAllMen started making ripples on Twitter yesterday, the hashtag was quickly hijacked by people speaking out about gender-based violence. Among them was a surprising number of men. (It should not be surprising in 2021 when men publicly express their desire to stop women being frightened, hurt or killed, but somehow it still is.)

In addition, a highly emotive clip from X, an HBO special by Scottish comedian Daniel Sloss, is being widely circulated. In the clip from his 2019 set, Sloss takes accountability for the fact that he never called out the sexist behavior of one of his male friends. That friend of eight years subsequently raped a woman Sloss was friends with.

"There are monsters amongst us and they look like us," Sloss says. "Don't just sit back and think 'Well, I'm not part of the problem. Therefore, I must be part of the solution.' When one in ten men are shit and the other nine do nothing, they might as well not fucking be there."

Of course, this isn't the first time men have shown support for women grappling with sexual violence. (Not all of them genuine, unfortunately.) But there are signs—across the pond, at least—that a sea change might be occurring.

On March 8, the UK edition of GQ published an in-depth article about Britain's "domestic abuse crisis." Not only was it an unlikely subject for a mainstream men's magazine, it wasn't afraid to lay the bulk of the responsibility for soaring rates of intimate partner violence squarely at the feet of men. The wider culture that perpetuates misogyny didn't get off lightly either.

What's more, the story was exhaustive, featuring extensive statistics, interviews with survivors, a guide to all behavior that should be acknowledged as abusive (including coercion), plus a list titled the "Eight Stages of Abuse." George Chesterton's essay even took the time to debunk old myths about violence against women, in particular the notion of "crimes of passion."

The feature didn't just feel unprecedented within the context of the genre of publication, it felt like a sliver of hope in a week when it was hard to muster any. Again: that men with a national platform are trying to teach other men how to not be abusive shouldn't come as a surprise in 2021, but somehow it still does. And the reason for that is because, even post-#MeToo, there has remained a pervasive sense that sexual violence and harassment are women's issues to be spoken about and handled by women.

Men—especially ones with public platforms (the ones who could reach the most people and do the most good)—often seem afraid of saying the wrong thing. Subsequently, they just don't say anything at all. (Lest we forget that in 2018, even in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein/#MeToo firestorm, the majority of men wearing Time's Up pins at the Golden Globes and Academy Awards avoided saying anything direct about harassment or assault.)

Make no mistake, male allies are what women need right now. It's what we have needed forever, actually. So men: we're not there to shut down the degrading conversations about us, but you are. And you're not there when we're being harassed because they don't do that in front of you. (Women are safer traveling with a man, not just because of issues around physical strength, but also because harassers assume a man walking next to a woman has already staked his claim to her. And they accept that over a woman's right to be left alone.)

Women know that the type of men who abuse and harass women are the type of men who only listen to other men. So men, if you're not doing it already, we need you to talk to one another. We need you to speak to the men who don't view us as human enough to listen to. We need you to speak to the ones that feel entitled to our time. We need you to speak to the ones that think that yelling at us on the street is all in good fun. And we even need you to speak to the ones that seem kind of scared of us—because sometimes it's them that end up being the most frightening.

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If this week has taught us anything, it's that feminist outrage can be a co-ed sport. And it's one that we need to keep in season always and forever, moving forward, if anything is ever going to change. “There are very many good men out there," Eve Ensler noted during a 2018 video interview with Time. "The problem is, any violence against women, standing up for women has not become their central issue. And when it does—when they say, 'This will be my central issue'—the world will change.”