Wayne Couzens jailed for murder of Sarah Everard: Women must no longer be made to feel unsafe in their day-to-day life - opinion
‘She was just walking home.’
These are the words we have all seen dominating news headlines and social media feeds, and - where I live in Southsea - adorning pavements and walls in chalk, since 33-year-old Sarah Everard first went missing in March this year.
These words do pack a punch. It’s true - she was just walking home.
It is unimaginably horrific that anyone could be just walking home from anywhere, only to never be seen alive again.
Since Sarah’s murder a total of 80 women in the UK have died by the hands of men.
That’s 80 women in six months.
According to the group Counting Dead Women, which tracks cases of femicide, these women were also just walking home, just walking from the hospital, just at home, just having a bath, just on holiday...the list goes on.
So while it is a true statement - and an emotive one - how surprising is it?
I do not know a single woman or girl who has never felt unsafe at one point in her life because of a man or boy.
And from an extremely young age we are conditioned to change our behaviour to keep ourselves safe.
In school we could not wear our skirts too short or allow our bra straps to show through our blouses in case we distracted the boys - and, even more disturbingly, some of the male teachers.
After school activities were fine as long as we had a buddy to get the later bus home with us.
At our first weekend jobs in cafes, restaurants and shops we were encouraged to smile at the customers who made inappropriate comments and grabbed our bodies. We couldn’t risk losing customers - or worse angering them.
Then when we were 18 and able to go to the clubs we couldn’t dress too provocatively, drink too much, leave our drinks unattended or get a taxi alone.
And the rules continue whatever your age.
For example, over the most recent winter my running activities - one of the few things I enjoyed during the lockdown - were limited to weekends as there was never enough light left in the working day to feel safe.
A housemate of mine tried to keep her running routine up as best she could during this time but was put off for good when a man started to chase her along the pavement one evening. Whether it was a misunderstanding or meant as a joke it did not erase the real sense of fear she felt when she heard those footsteps behind her.
So there are all these rules for women. Rules that even if you stick to them are no guarantee to keep you safe.
All these rules are just another way to put the blame on the victim. Where is the accountability for men?
And how many more innocent women who were just living their lives have to be killed for the narrative to shift to the perpetrators and how to prevent this happening time and time again?
Sarah Everard was just walking home, that is true.
But Wayne Couzens is a rapist and a murderer.