Disclaimer: Rape and sexual assualt trigger warning. This article does not aim to dismiss the tragedy of Sarah Everard. Our hearts ache for her and her family, and may her beautiful soul rest in peace.
“Why are you dressed like that?” “That’s too short, go change.” “You are revealing too much, go wear something else”. The perpetual, incessant phrases South Asian girls have grown up hearing from the likes of parents, uncles, aunties, grandparents; halting us before we get out of the doorway to change into something more ‘decent’. We would spite these comments, purely because we thought they were coming from a place of slut-shaming but in hindsight, maybe these comments were to protect us, from the predatory ways of men. But in the case of Sarah Everard, nothing you wear, say or do can ultimately protect you from harm’s way. She did everything right, wore the ‘right’ clothes, wore proper walking/running shoes, clutched her keys between her fingers, shared her location and yet she ended up murdered, by none other than the one entity that was supposed to protect the public, a police officer.
There are a few points about this case that renders one immensely frustrated and hopeless. Sarah did all the ‘special safety tools’ (as Lucy Mountain, @lucymountain on instagram perfectly said) that are taught and ingrained into women and girls alike and yet she was not allowed to walk safely back home. If we do all this and still these tools cannot help us, what happens then? What adds to the exhaustion further is that a police officer did this to Sarah. A police officer. The next question that I have to ask is, who can we now turn to in times of desperation?
I remember back when I was taking the train to school, in my train station you had to walk underneath a tunnel to get to the other side. Being 15 years of age, I would carry a small nail clipper that had the sharp filing blade within it, and would grip it tightly inside my blazer pocket as I speed walked through that tunnel, even though it was early in the morning. Now living in Townsville, a region notorious for high crime rates, coming back from the shops with groceries in hand, I walk quickly to my car, looking over both shoulders, then quickly jump into the car and lock the doors at the speed of light. Whenever I plan on going somewhere by myself, I automatically and subconsciously make sure I am not wearing anything too revealing, for my own protection, or so I think to myself. It is that perpetual fear and anxiety coursing through the veins of every female, whether they are taking a walk or putting the bins out or going to the shops, or walking past a group of men. Keys are squeezed just a little tighter, pace quickens, phone goes up to ear, location is quickly shared and you pray just that extra bit harder that nothing will happen to you.
The third point about this case that renders me a little exasperated (yes, right now I am coming up with as many synonyms to ‘frustrated’ as I can) is that cases like this happen frequently in South Asian countries, but how often do we get worked up about it? How often do we even hear about these cases? In writing this article, I do not want to dismiss Sarah’s tragedy at all; we as females, mourn in heavy heartache for one of our own gone. But I also want to address the pressing matters in countries where there is little to no representation in mainstream media. According to a 2019 annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau, rape is the fourth most common crime against women in India. Where was the uproar when a 19-year old Dalit woman in India was gang-raped by four men and murdered in 2020? What about the 13-year old girl that was raped and murdered, found in a sugarcane field with her eyes gouged out and cut in August 2020? What about the 18-year old school girl, Sivaloganathan Vithiyra who was gang-raped and murdered May 2015 in Sri Lanka? Who spoke up for the four-year old Sri Lankan girl Seya Sadewmi who was abducted, raped and murdered in 2015? I stopped my research after Seya because it was just mentally exhausting and emotionally tolling to read through the horrific crimes men inflict on women, girls and children. But the anger has to be allocated to these girls too. Their pain must be felt, their anguish must be empathised with and we must share their story because they could not. More awareness needs to be brought to areas where rape and assualt of women is common because this is how education and movement for change is generated.
Why as a society are we, as females, told what to do to keep safe? Why are we brought up with the mentality that we should live in fear of doing seemingly mundane tasks like going on a walk, otherwise we might end up dead? Why, as a society can we not tell men to be decent human beings, tell them, ‘hey please don’t murder women, don’t rape girls, don’t make females feel uncomfortable?’
This problem is further perpetuated by the simple use of passive voice when referring to an incident that occurred; it is always about how many girls that got harassed in the last year, not how many boys harassed girls. It is always how many girls got raped in the past year, not how many boys raped girls. If we shift the dialogue to be more directed to the perpetrators, it can make a massive difference in how we as a society view situations like this. It’s a men’s issue at the end of the day, but all we as girls can do is do everything in our power to stay safe, stick together and pray that one day society will shift the blame towards men, one day society will hold men accountable, one day we will be free to walk in the streets, carefree and make it back home at the end of the day.
Written by Upeksha Galappaththie.