Around 9 p.m. on March 3, 33-year-old Sarah Everard left her friend’s house in London to walk home. She wore bright clothes, walked on well-lit streets and called her boyfriend along the way. In other words, she did everything right.
Yet, on March 12, it was confirmed that her remains had been found in a wooded area of Kent, England, over fifty miles away from her home. Sarah had been abducted and murdered by a police officer. A man whose profession is fundamentally based on keeping the public safe had used his position to attack a vulnerable woman.
Following the horrific murder of Sarah Everard, numerous hashtags began trending, including #TextMeWhenYouGetHome. These hashtags depict the demoralizing and frustrating reality women must face when alone. Like me, many women in college can understand what Sarah Everard was thinking while walking home. The anxiety when someone is walking a little too quickly from behind or when a car begins to slow beside you. We are taught to leave before dark, never wear both headphones, share our live location, know who is behind us, have keys in hand, an alarm within reach — the list continues. However, these are all reactionary and do not guarantee safety in a disgusting game of luck. It is the reason fathers fear for their daughters. They know what other men can do when given the opportunity.
On March 16, a gunman traveled to several spas in Atlanta and murdered eight women, six of whom were of Asian descent. When questioned, the gunman claimed the attack was to combat his sex addiction by ridding himself of temptation, further encouraging the ignorant belief that racism and sexism are fundamentally separate issues. During a press conference, Captain Jay Baker, Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office spokesman, said the gunman was having a “bad day.” How insensitive does one have to be to try to invoke pity for a misogynistic murderer? Eight women had suddenly lost their lives, and Baker thought it would be appropriate to defend the man that had caused this immense tragedy and pain.
Excuses are consistently made for perpetrators, while victims are questioned for their behavior and clothing. It is a phenomenon that has seen little evolution over the last century. Men, inspired by the actions of other men, feel empowered to order women around. In the 1970s, “The Ripper” was causing chaos across Britain that led to women being instructed to always have a male companion or risk being blamed for their own death. The ideology that women should be the ones to alter their behavior ignores the fact that women are in no manner responsible for the actions of sexual predators and, therefore, should not be forced to change their conduct.
In early March, the release of a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for UN Women revealed that 86% of British women between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. Due to the timing of its release, the report has been discussed in conjunction with Sarah Everard’s death to demonstrate how frequent sexual harassment and assault are in daily life for women. However, the subsequent “#97percent” that began trending on Twitter and TikTok has faced retaliation with the assertion that “not all men” are predators.
The “not all men” movement is an inherently selfish act intended to redirect the conversation and dismiss the experiences of women. When a woman has the courage to talk about what happened to her, you listen and support her.
There are a range of behaviors that can be classified as sexual harassment and all of them can have an emotional toll. “If you immediately respond with ‘not all men’ rather than digest the facts and information or actively think about how to be part of the solution, then you are in fact part of the problem…” is how Twitter user @casiahcagan responded to the revitalized “not all men” movement. Casiah Cagan’s post reflects the mentality of many women across the internet toward #NotAllMen because it is simply unhelpful to talk about how you’re a nice guy in this situation.
For a woman walking on the street, there is no time to distinguish between the good men and the bad because there is no way to know, so being wary of all men is yet another security measure women use to protect themselves. Obviously, women know not all men are predators, but it is impossible to know which men are for sure problematic or not until it is too late. Dismissing the commonplace experiences of women because of what you perceive your own character to be shifts the focus toward you instead of continuing a necessary conversation.
To any male reader that adopts this approach: in Women’s History Month alone there have been numerous targeted attacks on women, and you have the arrogance to tell me not to worry because you’re a “good” guy? This isn’t about you. I don’t care how nice you are because if you are not actively combating violence against women, you are perpetuating its normalcy.
Instead, listen to what women have to say. Don’t become defensive or shift the discussion away from its main topic, make excuses for the behavior of other men or claim a woman is overreacting. Not being a perpetrator or a victim does not justify writing the issue off as something that has no impact on your life. Far too often, unacceptable behavior is brushed aside and allowed to spread rampantly across society. We all need to learn to have empathy so that more women can come forward without fear of cross-examination or victim-blaming.
While some women may have not experienced sexual harassment firsthand, the fear of it is instilled at an early age. Sexual assault and harassment can happen to anyone at any time and the best a woman can do is follow the same unwritten rulebook as Sarah Everard. In order for sexual assault and harassment to be addressed, there has to be an understanding that there are many opportunities men take for granted, because they are typically not the victims of gender-based violence. It may not be all men, but sexual harassment and assault certainly impacts every woman.
Katherine Kiessling can be reached at email@example.com.