On Saturday 13 March, the Feminist Society hosted a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard. The vigil included speeches from Member for Gender Equality-elect Caitlin Ridgway, Principal Sally Mapstone, and Secretary of the GotConsent? Committee Athena.
Ms Everard disappeared after leaving a friend’s house in Clapham at about 9pm on 3 March. A serving Metropolitan police officer has now been charged with kidnapping Ms Everard as she was walking home and then murdering her.
These events have raised many questions about the role of gender-based violence in society and have led to conversations about the precautions women have been told they must take in order to prevent themselves from becoming victims of violence.
The Online Vigil was held in order to pay respect and commemorate the lives of Ms Everard and all those who have lost their lives to gender-based violence.
Ms Ridgway spoke of the tragic death of Ms Everard: “When we saw what happened to Sarah, we saw someone who did nothing wrong, who had every right to walk home and wake up the next day and to live”
Ms Ridgeway further noted the reasons for which Ms Everard’s death has resonated so strongly within the community: “She was simply walking home, before midnight, wearing bright clothes, calling her partner. As we watched, we saw our own footfalls. How many times have we walked home alone, gripping our keys, checking our phone battery, mentally ticking off the checklist of everything we should do.”
Professor Mapstone also showed her respects to the family of Sarah Everard. She reminded us of how Sarah’s parents had described their daughter as a strong and principled woman, declaring “We need strong and principled women in our world”.
She continued: “Many of us over the past week have had cause to realise how often we have normalized behaviour we have adopted throughout our lives because of the fear and the reality of gender-based violence – that is why Sarah’s death has resonated so strongly with so many of us.”
Speaking about the problem of gender-based violence in St Andrews, Professor Mapstone explained, “this is a question of women’s rights but it’s also a question about culture and behaviour.”
“We have to show some leadership and action in relation to this in St Andrews.”
“Within our culture, women do not always feel safe… This is one of the reasons why the University, with the Students’ Association Committee are undertaking a review of our student culture, with a particular emphasis on the place of sexual violence within it. We’re doing that review this year in an open and transparent way, involving other institutions.”
Professor Mapstone concluded by simply stating: “It is every woman’s right to be able to walk home at night.”
Finally, Athena spoke about the role of Got Consent? With regards to trying to prevent gender-based violence from occurring within St Andrews.
“One of our main focusses is bystander intervention,” she said.
She further explained a number of methods students can use to intervene when they think that someone looks like they are in an uncomfortable situation. These include addressing the situation directly or delegating to someone in a position of higher authority.
With regards to the issue of gender-based violence more generally, she highlighted that, “As a community, just having these conversations is essential, noticing and calling out rape culture and misogyny.”
She further explained that rape culture and misogyny can include “blaming victims of sexual violence, publicly scrutinizing them, the way that they dress, mental health, drinking or drug use history.”
Finally, she explained the importance of male participation in solving these issues. She said, “We must make sure that men are an active part of the conversation.”
Athena concluded: “I hope that we continue to have these conversations and to demand justice for women and for Sarah.”