Women are not responsible for making sure they are not the victims of sexual assault

Sexualized Violence
(graphic by Sie Douglas-Fish)

Sarah Everard investigation opens up conversation about all forms of gender-based violence

Readers should be advised that the following article discusses sexualized and gender-based violence, including sexual assault. 

In the wake of news regarding Sarah Everard’s murder, I have not been able to get her story out of my head. 

Everard went missing on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, while walking home from a friend’s house. A London Metropolitan police officer has since been arrested under suspicion of kidnapping and murdering her. 

Everard’s story represents the most extreme degree of gender-based violence, but it is one that most women consider daily. Though I live across the world from the UK, I take the precautions that have been ingrained in me since I was young in order to ensure my safety. I hold my keys between my fingers, walk along streets that are well lit, and keep my phone charged so that I can call someone if need be. 

Everard took precautions and still did not make it home.

A recent UK study found that 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Although the Everard case occurred in London, the issues that it concerns are just as relevant in Canada. Conversation should not be focused on how well women can protect themselves, but what men can do in preventing crimes committed against women.  

Not all cases of gender-based violence are as extreme as Everard’s, but other forms of gender-based violence, like sexual assault and harassment, leave women fearful of what could happen. These forms of sexualized and gender-based violence are the situations that I and most other women experience frequently. Fear of harassment is warranted: it can be highly traumatizing.

I recently experienced unwanted attention from someone at UVic’s Student Union Building that left me feeling horrible and helpless, and gave me nightmares for weeks. This is a situation where nothing technically criminal was done, but this type of normalized harassment continues to make women feel unsafe. 

Some people believe that all women should carry pepper spray in order to protect themselves. While I appreciate that this recognizes that there is an issue, I can’t help but feel that this is not the right solution. First, under the Criminal Code of Canada carrying a product designed for personal protection against human attack is illegal. Carrying around pepper spray also has complicated legal implications in Canada. Although many women carry pepper spray in case of attack, this isn’t technically legal as it can be considered a concealed weapon.

Although it may seem odd to some, I do not want to have to depend on carrying a weapon in order to ensure my safety. I want to be able to depend on the idea that nobody is going to hurt me when I walk alone.

Everard has been shamed in the media for walking home at night. Instead of shaming women, men should consider what they can do to make women feel safer. If they do not know, they should ask.