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“I've been scared to leave the house.” How it feels to be a woman in London right now.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers. 

I’ve lived in London for five years, but the past week has felt like no other. 

A senseless act has shifted the ground beneath the feet of every woman in this city.

There’s a sudden tension in the air. A difficult gaze between strangers walking past each other on the street. The underlying knowledge of what happened.

Watch: Women and Violence, the hidden numbers. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

We’re all on high alert. 

And for the first time in my life, I haven’t felt safe enough to walk out my front door at night. 

A front door just three kilometres from where Sarah Everard was last seen before she was murdered. 

All because I know it could so easily have been me.

At 33, Sarah was just a year older than me. She was my height, my build and we even worked in the same industry. 

And on the evening of Wednesday, March 3, just like Sarah, I was also walking home from a friend’s house in Clapham at 9pm.

It’s a route I wouldn’t have thought twice about taking at any time of night. 

Clapham is an area of South West London widely known to be an Aussie and Kiwi heartland. Filled with green parks, familiar accents and Antipodean-owned cafes serving meat pies and Tim Tams, it’s the closest we can feel to being at home and it’s always felt safe to me. 

Then everything changed with Sarah’s disappearance. 

Last Monday I tracked how far her last known whereabouts was to my house – trying to work out if it was far enough that I could still feel safe on my evening walk. 

A walk. The only freedom that we in the UK have right now during the national lockdown. It’s one of the few reasons we’re legally allowed to leave our homes. And now that’s been taken away from us. 

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As I traced Sarah’s route on Google maps that night, I realised, with a pang of sadness, that it was International Women’s Day. 

What a slap in the face.

On Tuesday evening – while the man suspected of killing Sarah was being arrested – I chose a busy street to walk along, with regular traffic and plenty of open spaces. 

But by Wednesday, police had discovered a body – now known to be Sarah’s – 90 minutes away in Kent, in England’s South East.

I didn’t go for a walk that night. Or any night since.

In some sense, it should feel like the danger has somewhat passed. Wayne Couzens, a 48-year-old police officer, has since been formally charged with Sarah’s kidnap and murder. He’s currently behind bars, off our streets, and we’ll tell ourselves that it’s safe enough to walk at night again. That we’ll be fine. 

Except we won’t. Because in reality, this will happen again. Without question. Another innocent woman will lose her life at the hands of another bad man. 

Every single woman knows this. It’s a fact of life we live with every single day.

But in the wake of Sarah’s murder, I’ve been told by some men not to worry too much. 

“These things are so rare.”

“Just keep to well-lit areas at night.”

“You should be fine.”

Should? Excuse me for not wanting to place my trust in a lamp post – as if a streetlight is going to be the difference between life and death. 

Because it sure as hell wasn’t for Sarah.

Sarah did all the ‘right things’. She wore bright clothing and sensible running shoes. She called her boyfriend on the way home and walked in those ‘well-lit areas’. 

I appreciate these men are just trying to make me feel safe. But some have no idea what it is like to be a woman.

To walk with the need to be aware of our surroundings every time we leave the house. 

To walk with one earphone in and one ear listening out for the quickening of footsteps. 

To walk past a building site and brace yourself for the catcalls. 

To walk through a bar and have your body groped. 

To walk with keys wedged between your fingers.

To walk looking over your shoulder. 

To walk with a racing heart.

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To walk the longer route. 

To walk scared. 

This isn’t rare. 

This is Our Normal. 

In the UK, 97 per cent of women have been sexually harassed in their lifetime. 

Every three days, a woman is killed by a man.

So why has Sarah Everard’s case struck such a cord? 

“The murder of Sarah has confirmed our worst fears,” my friend Hannah told me, “that no matter what we do, no matter what safety measures we put in place, there will always be those who violate our right to live a life free from the fear of harassment, assault or death.” 

“Sarah was abducted on a road that I used to walk every day,” Hannah added. “I’ve always taken precautions in London but the most terrifying thing about Sarah’s murder is that I genuinely don’t think there is anything else she could have done.”

The impact Sarah’s death has had on the women of London is immeasurable and the outpouring of anger and despair is being felt across the city. 

This was loud and clear on Saturday night. 

A peaceful vigil had been planned for Sarah at the bandstand in Clapham Common – the park she last walked through on her fateful journey home. But hours before the event was due to take place, it was cancelled. Organisers said the Metropolitan Police had failed to work with them to ensure the vigil could go ahead safely during Covid restrictions. 

But still, the mourners turned up. 

In their thousands, they marched along paths Sarah would have taken just 10 days earlier.

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In her footsteps, they strode past ponds that had been scoured by police divers looking for her body. 

Angry and hurting, they laid flowers around the bandstand. Blooms piled up higher and higher in a sea of colour, light and life. As if in Sarah’s honour, the sky shone gold as the sun slipped over Clapham Common. 

Chanting grew among the crowd underneath face masks. 

“Sisters united, we’ll never be defeated.” 

Beside women, stood our allies.

The husbands and the boyfriends. The brothers and the mates. The groups of guys who showed up to show their support. 

United they stood. 

For Cameron from Toowoomba, Queensland, Sarah’s murder hit especially hard. 

“I live very close to where Sarah was taken,” he told me, “and my girlfriend and I often walk along that same road at night. She often walks alone. Her name is also Sarah.”

In the days before police found Sarah’s body, Cameron and his girlfriend searched bushes in Clapham and kept their eyes down while out walking. They looked to the ground for anything that could be linked to her disappearance. 

“We were both heartbroken to find out what happened to her,” Cameron said. 

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“We decided to come to the vigil because we felt it was important to pay tribute to her and all women who seem to have to fight to just survive in this world.”

As the mountain of flowers grew beneath the bandstand, candles flickered on homemade signs propped up against bouquets. 

‘We deserve to be able to walk home.’ 

‘We know it’s not all men, but we don’t know which men.’ 

‘Educate your sons.’

‘When will women be safe?’

‘Killed by the system we’re told protects.’ 

As the crowd swelled, so did emotions for Maddi, a teacher from Wellington, New Zealand.

“It’s really hit home that this could have been any one of us,” she said. “I looked at Sarah’s photos and thought, we could all be her.” 

“Her murder has just really drilled in that women can’t even trust the police with our safety.” 

While officers initially kept a low-profile at the bandstand – gently encouraging those at the front to move on – tensions escalated as more police arrived on the scene. 

Less than an hour after the peaceful vigil began in memory of Sarah Everard, violent clashes emerged between officers and the public.  

“Dozens of police came in,” Cameron said, “and they were pushing people unprovoked. I saw them just shove and hit people for no reason at all. One officer told a girl, who was crying and visibly having a panic attack, “you need better acting lessons.”

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Videos posted to social media show officers pinning women to the ground. The crowd shouting, “shame on you”, as others were dragged away. The floral tributes trampled. 

That night, four people were arrested. Four voices were silenced. 

To say there is an even greater sense of hopelessness in London right now is an understatement. And I feel at an end as to what we can do or achieve. 

But in the small pockets of life, I see conversations, empathy and education growing. 

Zayn, a teacher from Noosa, took to the Aussies in London Facebook page with a call for help. He desperately asked for resources to help him address male violence, especially abuse against women, with the students in his classroom. 

“As a man, teacher, brother, partner, friend and hopefully a father one day, it is my responsibility to do what I can to help create a safer, kinder and better world – and I am in a strong position to do so,” he wrote online. “As a human being however, it is ALL of our responsibility to play a part in this.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Hannah, who says she’s received messages from outraged male friends offering their unconditional support. 

“One assured me that in his social group they openly discuss male values, appropriation and honesty around their behaviour,” Hannah said.“Others have described it as the darkest day for a long time, admitting they’re ashamed of their gender.”

I caught the tube home from Saturday night’s vigil. Then made the 12 minute walk home alone. 

And for the first time in almost a week, I wasn’t afraid. 

Maybe it was the adrenaline of being among the crowd or the chants still running through my head. But I felt stronger. Braver. Empowered. There was a renewed confidence in my step.

When I passed a group of loud, drunken boys, I didn’t flinch. I didn’t look down. I didn’t make myself as small as possible and scurry past. I stared straight forward and held my head high. 

We will never be defeated. 

‘Home safe’ I texted my friend as I walked through the front door. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.