On the Right to Make it Home
In the last days of September, justice was served in the Old Bailey Courtroom. Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens was sentenced by Lord Justice Fulford to a whole life order on 30 September 2021 for the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard. He will never be eligible for parole. Whole life orders are rare in the UK, and it was due to the premediated nature of the murder, as well as the false arrest, that Couzens was sentenced to one. Sarah Everard was 33. She was loved by her family and friends and looking forward to the rest of her life. While legal proceedings have finished, the impact of Sarah Everad’s murder on the lives of women in the UK, and on the institutions meant to protect them, is still to be seen. While delivering the sentence, Lord Justice Adrian described Ms Everard as a “blameless victim of a grotesquely executed series of offences.” Philip Allott, the North Yorkshire police commissioner, drew outrage from parties across the political spectrum for suggesting that “women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.” Sarah Everard’s case is particularly painful for the way it has affected the public’s attitude towards authority ‒ specifically towards those who are employed to keep us safe. Couzens used his status as a police officer to falsely arrest Ms Everard. Understandably, this has led to widespread condemnation of The Met, who responded by advising women to protect themselves, suggesting that “shouting out to a passerby, running into a house, knocking on a door, waving a bus down or, if you are in the position to do so, calling 999’’ may help them should they feel unsafe during an arrest. To find ourselves in a situation where The Metropolitan Police Force is advising the public to potentially resist arrest is no good thing for any member of society. Instead, appropriate vetting practices for officers and transparency in operation may go some way to restoring trust. Couzens was reportedly nicknamed “The Rapist” by his colleagues for his tendency to make women uncomfortable. This should not have been acceptable. In the meantime, women are advised to add to an ever-growing but ineffective list: don’t walk alone at night, don’t drink, don’t wear revealing clothing, don’t smile, do smile, put your keys between your fingers, have 999 dialled on your phone, share your location with someone, don’t leave your drink alone, don’t wear a ponytail, yell that there is a fire and someone might come, check the back of your car, and under it, flag down a bus if you are being arrest- ed... stay vigilant, don’t trust anyone. It is exhausting, even more so when women have to hear about “not all men.” Should women be responsible for protecting themselves from harm? Is it appropriate that, in the face of overwhelming evidence, women should have to be the ones to urge men’s action? Women should not have to carry the burden of preventing their own murders. They should be able to walk home. According to the Femicide Census, an organisation that tracks violence against women and girls, a woman is killed by a man every three days in the UK. Violence against women is commonplace. The same organisation has expressed their dissatisfaction with the government’s “Tackling violence against women and girls strategy,” which came out in July. It has been criticised for not including enough policy around preventing femicide. Sabina Nessa’s murder on Sep- tember 17 proved to many that not enough, if anything at all, has changed in the last six months. Then in the Old Bailey, where Wayne Couzens was convicted, Koci Selamaj, a 36-year-old Albanian man, was charged with murdering a young woman as she walked to meet a friend. It is reported that 81 women have been killed by men in the UK since Sarah Everard was murdered. Anger and sadness are understandable. It is easy to feel as though the institutions meant to protect us, like the police force or the government don’t care about the safety of women. It is not enough to be offered “thoughts and prayers” or “learn- ing lessons.” As students and young adults, we have the opportunity to demand better for ourselves. We hope that one day there will be no place in our society for violence against women and girls, and that women like Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard will not have their lives snatched away and their names associated with the violence done against them. At the moment, they seem commonplace. Here in St Andrews, students have lead the way in changing how we think about sex-and-gender- based violence and safety. While many of us feel safer in St Andrews than we might in a city, there is still a lot of work to do when it comes to protecting students. The Saint hopes that, in future, we might see concrete progress outside “The Bubble” too, and that women across the UK will feel safe on their own streets.