One year on from Sarah Everard’s murder, is the UK a safer place for women and girls?

Written by Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.

One year since the horrific murder of Sarah Everard, Stylist speaks to three women on the frontline of the violence against women and girls sector to find out whether anything has changed, and what needs to happen next.

Today marks one year since Sarah Everard was kidnapped and murdered by Wayne Couzens. 

The 33-year-old marketing executive – who was falsely arrested by the then-serving Metropolitan police officer while walking home from a friend’s house in south London – was missing for seven days before her remains were discovered in woodland near Ashford, Kent, on 10 March.

In the days, weeks and months that followed, Everard’s case sparked both an outpouring of grief and a powerful national conversation about male violence against women. 

It also shone a light on the sheer number of women who lose their lives to male violence, including in the highly publicised cases of Bibaa Henry, Nicole Smallman, Sabina Nessa and, recently, Ashling Murphy.

But Sarah Everard’s death did not just shine a light on women being killed by men – it also led people to confront the many other challenges women face, from rape and sexual abuse to the misogynistic attitudes that underpin these crimes and the way society responds to them.  

And the actions of her killer – who used his position as a police officer to falsely arrest his victim – has also led to further interrogation of the role members of the police have played in perpetuating violence against women. 

This has led to numerous revelations including the fact that 15 serving or former police officers have killed women since 2009, and that more than 2,500 police officers were working without passing appropriate vetting procedures at the end of last year.

In the aftermath of Everard’s murder, the government promised it would be taking steps to address male violence against women – a goal which was reiterated by the publication of its strategy to tackle violence against women and girls on 21 July last year. However, many are concerned at the lack of progress being made to put this strategy into action.

The question, then, is this: has anything really changed in the year since Sarah Everard’s horrific murder? And what needs to happen next to ensure the issue of male violence against women is properly confronted?

To find out more, Stylist spoke to a series of women at the forefront of the fight against male violence against women. Here, they share their perspective on what’s happened over the last 12 months. 

Rebecca Gill, executive director of Rosa, a funding organisation dedicated to supporting organisations that help the UK’s most vulnerable women and girls 

“While the events of the last year have definitely made more people aware that male violence and abuse manifests in multiple ways and is a soundtrack to women and girls throughout their lives, most organisations working to address the problem are still starved of funding – particularly core funding which ensures their sustainability.

“Rosa was set up in 2008 by a group of women who understood that there was a lack of funding going into the women and girls’ sector and that organisations were having difficulty explaining the importance of specialist women-only organisations to funders and other civil society organisations, but 14 years on, this remains a challenge for organisations delivering vital services.

“Rosa is seeking to address some of this through our Stand With Us Fund, which was started with the generosity of a crowdfunder led by Reclaim These Streets (RTS) and which has been designed in partnership with VAWG organisations and RTS. 

“This will fund specialist women’s and girls’ organisations working to end male violence – it cannot be overstated how critical the work these organisations do really is. 

“However, a failure by central and local government to understand the value of these organisations heavily impacts their ability to raise money and survive, let alone thrive. This is particularly true for small organisations, those led by and for Black and minoritised women and girls and those supporting women with multiple and complex needs. 

“Male violence against women and girls is a huge problem with profound and tragic consequences, and over the next year, we would like to see far greater value placed on the vital work being done by organisations led by and for women and girls which seek to address this issue in all its forms. This includes funding by central and local government and charitable funders.

“Women’s and girls’ organisations generally remain an invisible but essential part of civil society at a community, local, regional and national level – and they exist on a shoestring. If things are to change, this must change. We need to see far greater value and visibility given to these organisations and that includes money.” 

Sonia Jalal, founder of Hull Sisters, a charity run by BAME women for BAME women that helps to empower, support and upskill women from all ethnicities so they can take control of their bodies and lives 

“We have seen that campaigns against VAWG (like one we’ve been leading) have created more awareness among women and, as a result, there has been an increase in BAME women coming forward to report their experiences. We know that women want to educate themselves about their rights and also want to exercise their rights.

“However, support from services such as the police and social services still needs attention, as in many cases the right support is not available to women of colour and their issues have been ignored or misunderstood by these services.

“Because BAME women’s organisations are always underfunded and often work with women with very complex issues on very limited resources, charities like ours often end up relying heavily on volunteers.  

“Recently, our main struggle has been obtaining funding to provide adequate premises for the charity – after a year and a half of campaigning, we managed to secure a building from our local council but the building came with a lot of maintenance issues, leaving us with the option to provide cooking facilities for women who don’t have them elsewhere.

“Ultimately, we want equality and human rights for all women, regardless of colour, ethnicity or religion. We believe that all women need to be united as a single voice against VAWG and then we would be able to bring about change in the system.

“At the moment, outside London areas especially, cities such as Hull need a lot of work to understand BAME women’s issues and include BAME women as a priority in eliminating VAWG strategies. Political will is needed to bring about equality, along with greater recognition of true community activists who can bring a real change in society.” 

Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis, a national organisation that supports the work of Rape Crisis centres across England and Wales and works to raise awareness of rape and sexual violence in all its forms 

“Despite the public outrage that we saw in the aftermath of the deaths of women like Sarah Everard, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, there have been few real steps taken to tackle the misogyny that is widespread throughout British society and our state institutions. 

“From the appalling misogyny and racism displayed by the Metropolitan police and other forces, the reported influx of spikings at clubs and parties and the normalisation of sexual harassment in schools, violence against women and girls feels pervasive, inescapable and unavoidable.

“The opportunity for radical change is here. In the past year, report after report has been published detailing institutional failings and giving recommendations for what needs to change. Apologies and outrage have flowed, but progress has felt unbearably slow. It doesn’t feel like the everyday life and experience of women has changed at all.

“While the government focused its attention on expensive ‘safety’ apps, street lighting and advising women to flag down buses, those working on the frontline with victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse called for real and substantive action: an overhaul of the criminal justice system, a focus on campaigns that target perpetrator behaviour and sustainable funding for specialist support services. 

“Rape prosecutions are now at an all-time low, with just 1.3% of rape cases being prosecuted. This is despite the fact that reports of rape have hit a record high. For the few victims and survivors who do see their cases taken on, meanwhile, they must face devastatingly long court delays. This leads many to experience intensified trauma symptoms, such as flashbacks, panic attacks and heightened anxiety and stress.

“Rape Crisis centres work extremely hard, providing specialist and life-changing support. In 2020-21, Rape Crisis centres provided almost 1.1 million sessions of specialist support, an increase of 41% from 2019-20.

“But demand for services far exceeds the funding available. There are currently more than 12,000 people on Rape Crisis waiting lists, the vast majority of whom are waiting for trauma-informed counselling and other therapies. 

“Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. In the past year there has been a noticeable cultural shift towards accountability, and eliminating male violence is now high on the public agenda. If the government and justice agencies follow through on their promises, we could see some meaningful changes in the way that rape victims and survivors are treated.

“But we need more than just apologies and promises. It’s time for the radical action that those of us in the women’s sector have been demanding for years. Action that would include long-term funding for specialist sexual violence support services, a concerted effort to tackle rape culture and zero tolerance for those in power who abuse their positions. Only then will we start to see real justice.” 

With the support of more than 60 experts, MPs and public figures, Stylist has been calling on the government to launch a long-term public campaign challenging the attitudes behind male violence against women aimed at men. This week, they launched such a campaign – but there’s more to be done. Find out more about #AFearlessFuture. 

Image: Marita Upeniece

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