84: don’t go down to the woods today (or the park, the fields or the street)

Back in week 51 (It’s not all men, but it is all women) I wrote one of my more serious posts about the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by serving police officer Wayne Couzens, who used his warrant card and handcuffs to make a false arrest under Covid lockdown rules. He was given a whole life tariff as the abuse of his position made this an exceptional case – the first time this sentence has been handed down for a single murder not committed in the course of a terror attack. He was already being investigated for two allegations of indecent exposure in February and some of his colleagues even referred to him as ‘the rapist’.

Sarah’s murder sparked vigils at which women were arrested, waves of light across the country, gatherings and a movement called ‘Reclaim these Streets‘ was founded. Their aim is to use ‘legislation, education and community action to ensure no woman has to be asked to ‘text me when you get home’ ever again’. ‘Educate your sons!’ became a meme and the subject of MumsNet debates, op-ed pieces in the newspapers and so on. In safeguarding training aimed at people working with teenagers incels are being included alongside both Islamic and far-right white radicalisation as things to watch out for.

In just the seven months since Sarah Everard’s murder, Reclaim these Streets have also held vigils for sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman who were murdered in Fryent Country Park after celebrating a birthday in June 2020. For Sabina Nessa who left her home in Kidbrooke in September 2021 to go on an evening out and who was found dead in Cator Park the following day. Men have been arrested, charged and imprisoned for these murders. PCSO Julia James was murdered in Kent as she walked her dog, minutes from her home. And these are just the headlines: how many of these women don’t garner the kind of national attention that these four did?

All four were murdered by strangers to them, despite the police telling us that being murdered by a stranger is statistically unlikely. It’s far from unlikely, it turns out: in the year to March 2020, it was strangers that murdered about 43% of women killed, according to this article. Keep reading that article for the sexual harassment figures. One woman is killed every three days in the UK (source).

This week it was half term, and the first thing I had to do was to ban Things 1 and 2 from going over to the park or the Common either alone or with their friends, and told them to stay out of the fields: a man has been hiding in bushes and frightening women, including a serving police woman who didn’t have her warrant card on her. She was not confident about being able to overpower him to make an arrest so she got her mobile out and pretended loudly to be making a call to someone coming to meet her. Another woman spotted the same man while she was out and joined forces with a third to make sure they both got home safely. He was a stranger to all the women. He could have been local, but equally with the inland border facility now on the airfield he could have been from anywhere in the UK or Europe – lorries are arriving 24 hours a day. Thing 1 spotted another man hiding in bushes in the next village along while she was in the park with a friend. That’s an even smaller village than ours.

I think nothing (usually) of walking through the fields on my own in the early mornings. I train for walking marathons along the public footpaths of Essex and often don’t see another soul, but I make sure I’m aware of any people that do appear and where they are in relation to me, ‘just in case’. I have made the decision this week not to walk alone, which makes me angry. Why should I – or any woman – have to adjust her behaviour and life because someone else has a problem? After Sabina Nessa was killed, a community group handed out ‘advice’ from the Met website (since removed) which again puts the onus on women to avoid getting attacked rather than on the attackers.

How dare someone take away my freedom and that of other women in the village, and prevent our kids from exercising what little freedom they have to play? What right does that – or any – man have to stalk and lurk and strike fear into women wanting only to walk through their local countryside? Educating our sons – and our daughters – will affect the present and the future but what do we do about the people out there already? And how many times do we have to have this conversation?

Feel free to share, to add to the conversation, to get angry. If enough of us rage then something might actually be done. The daughter of my D&D friends was wearing a t-shirt on Thursday night that reminded me how we ought to be, a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote that describes perfectly how I want my girls (and all girls) to be, and how they should be treated.

What I’ve been reading:

Widdershins/Dreams Underfoot/Moonlight and Vines – Charles de Lint

Moominsummer Madness– Tove Jansson (Audible)

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