July 24, 2021

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The Case of Sarah Everard: London Abduction Brings Wave of Women’s Safety Concerns – The Wall Street Journal

4 min read

The abduction and murder of 33-year-old marketing executive Sarah Everard has unleashed a torrent of concern over women’s safety in London and the rest of the U.K., with thousands of women recounting their own stories of harassment in a fresh upsurge in support for the #MeToo movement.

Ms. Everard went missing after leaving a friend’s apartment in south London on March 3, triggering a police search across southeast England. On Friday, police confirmed that remains found in a wooded area southeast of the capital were hers and that an officer with London’s Metropolitan Police, 48-year-old Wayne Couzens, had been arrested and charged with Ms. Everard’s kidnapping and murder.

Mr. Couzens, whose duties included guarding embassies, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, nor could it be determined if he had any legal representation.

The case has struck a nerve in Britain, in part because Ms. Everard had done many of things women are often advised to do to ensure their safety.

She wore bright, visible clothing when she left her friend’s apartment in Clapham at 9 p.m. for a walk home to Brixton that should have taken 50 minutes at most. She had called another friend to say she was on her way. And she had stuck to well-lit main roads. Yet she was abducted—and, investigators suspect, by a policeman.

Many women have shared their own experiences of being harassed or feeling unsafe walking city streets.

Some described wearing comfortable shoes in case they had to break into a run or pretending to be engaged in a loud phone call to deter potential attackers. Others told how wedging keys between their knuckles had become second nature, so as to inflict as much damage as possible if they needed to strike out in hopes of buying enough time to get away safely.

Officers investigating Sarah Everard’s disappearance conducted a search in Deal, England, on Friday.

Photo: Paul Childs/Reuters

Author Julie Cohen said on Twitter that she once had to switch trains because of three seemingly ordinary middle-age men who had begun to harass her. “We can’t tell which men are safe because even the ones who are supposedly safe feel enabled to humiliate us for fun,” she wrote.

Fern Brady, a Scottish comedian, recalled wondering what age she needed to reach before she could stop worrying about getting murdered for being a woman. The answer, she said she realized, was never.

U.N. Women, a United Nations agency, released a survey this week that found that some 70% of women and girls in the U.K. had experienced sexual harassment in public spaces and urged the government to do more to combat the problem. Among the findings, only 3% of women between the ages of 18 and 24 said they hadn’t experienced any sexual harassment. It is also a global issue, U.N. Women said, reporting that in some cities around the world, almost nine out of 10 women feel unsafe in public.

A group called Reclaim the Streets planned a vigil for Ms. Everard in London on Saturday evening, but canceled it after the High Court declined to overrule a police warning that it would contravene Covid-19 lockdown restrictions. Similar gatherings were planned elsewhere in the country. Opposition Labour Party lawmaker Harriet Harman was one of many people who had planned to attend, though it is unclear whether the event would still proceed in some other form.

“When the police advise women, don’t go out at night on their own, women ask why do they have to be subjected to an informal curfew?” Ms. Harman told Parliament earlier this week. “It is not women who are the problem here, it is men.”

Andrea Leadsom of the ruling Conservative Party said she was angered that women walking home in the dark have to feel scared if someone else is walking closely behind them.

Labour lawmaker Rose Duffield alluded to the months of Black Lives Matter protests for racial justice that spread around the world after George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis last year.

“Sarah Everard has reignited the fire within us much like George Floyd did—enough is enough,” Ms. Duffield said.

Some politicians have suggested that men be subjected to a curfew. While British government ministers quickly played down the idea, Welsh government leader Mark Drakeford said he wouldn’t rule it out if circumstances dictated that it was necessary. He later dismissed the possibility.

Meanwhile, anger is building toward London’s police for attempting to prevent Saturday’s vigil from going ahead, and for the revelation that the officer in custody on suspicion of abducting Ms. Everard had been arrested separately for an alleged indecent exposure in a fast-food restaurant three days before she disappeared.

Several lawmakers have asked the vigil be permitted to occur without any consequences for organizers, who have told those participating to wear face masks and observe social distancing.

The Reclaim the Streets group that suggested the event tried to persuade the High Court in London to allow the vigil to proceed without any legal repercussions. The court rejected their challenge and refused to intervene.

Write to James Hookway at james.hookway@wsj.com

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