'I will not be the woman who stays silent'

Women from Northants speak out on Sarah Everard’s murder and the events of the last few days

Before you read: If this is your first visit to NN Journal then hit the subscribe button below to receive free news articles about Northamptonshire delivered straight to your inbox.

By Natalie Bloomer

The death of Sarah Everard and the subsequent arrest of a Metropolitan Police officer in connection with her murder has sparked a national conversation about male violence against women.

In Northampton, as in London, women who were planning a vigil to remember Sarah say they were warned by police that they could face fines if the gathering went ahead. Plans were quickly changed and an online event was arranged instead. However, the following day a number of people took to Facebook to express their anger over Northamptonshire Police’s decision to not allow the vigil to be held in a Covid-safe way as happened in some other towns and cities.

At NN Journal we believe it’s vital that women’s voices are heard at this time and so today we are bringing you the views of local women on Sarah’s murder and the events of the last few days. 

Bianca Todd from Community Court Yard and organiser of the Northampton vigil

“There isn’t a woman who hasn’t experienced putting her hand in her pocket to hold her keys tightly, just in case the footsteps behind her attack her.

It was for that reason that women across the country wanted to come together last weekend, not to protest, but to remember Sarah Everard and to share our stories of feeling unsafe on our streets.

Unfortunately as the organiser of the Northampton vigil I was threatened with a £10,000 fine. There was no room for compromise, to create a space where we could come together safely. Luckily in Northampton we were able to create a connected space virtually. Sadly this was not the case in London. Women came together in grief, the flowers they brought to show respect were trampled on. Worse than that, women who shared a story of male violence were then arrested by the Metropolitan Police Force.

This action by the police perpetuates the narrative that we as women know that it is not safe on our streets for us. Rape and violent crime against us increases but prosecutions decrease.

On Saturday night, when women were consumed with sadness, when we were sharing our stories, the police made us all feel less safe. There are serious questions to be answered around the difference in approach that has been taken by the police, when male dominated spaces, such as football celebrations were allowed to happen.

For all of those sisters who are feeling despair and sadness, I am mindful of the words of Maya Angelou “still I rise” - and we will.”

Hannah Litt from Amplified NN

“If you speak to any woman she could probably reel off a whole list of times she hasn’t felt safe. This isn’t anything new for us, we are never safe, whether it’s at home, in our workplaces or walking down the street, it’s always our responsibility or our fault that something bad happens. “What was she wearing?” Why was she out at night?” “Why didn’t she leave?”

Am I shocked by what happened at the vigil for Sarah Everard? No absolutely not. It was only 10 months ago that two officers from the London Met were accused of taking selfies with the bodies of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. Why would we expect any better? 

If anything is really going to change we need real allyship from men and systems need to change. I for one will not be the woman that says I stayed silent. We deserve better and the next generation deserves better.”

Anjona Roy from Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council

“The action of the Metropolitan Police at the vigil for Sarah Everard was indefensible. It appeared that at a senior level there was a directive to shut down these women's voices.

It is completely incredible that there was such a lack of insight into the level of grief and anger that so many women feel about not only the events of Sarah Everard’s death and the incidents that led up to it, but also the subsequent comments and reporting of this. 

This is a feature of a service that across the country has been failing women. Key indicators are the failed investigations and prosecutions of offences that relate to violence against women. This together with direct cuts in funding for local women's organisations have created a perfect storm of women feeling failed.”

Maria Chapman, former headteacher

“It was a shallow breath I exhaled when I first heard the news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance. Going back to my teens, the news of disappeared women had rarely been followed by anything good. My time at Leeds University in the mid 1980s was spent with the memory of Peter Sutcliffe’s reign of terror never too far away from my mind because each day I walked past Alma Road where he took his last victim, 20-year-old Jacqueline Hill.   

On Friday afternoon my newsfeeds brought me the awful confirmation of Sarah Everard’s death.  While driving, I searched out some more detailed news coverage, from some personal need I had to pay a respect to her tragic end-of-life. I stumbled upon some obscure talk radio station’s rambling DJ, who said that it was a terrible thing that had happened to Sarah Everard, and that after all, she had been dressed sensibly for that time of year and was not out late. I was furious and later that day I sent a message to the station concerned with a vehement reminder that it is a woman’s right to wear anything and go out at any time. 

Has anything really improved for women’s safety over the years? I think that there is now more risk than ever. This summer, before my 18-year-old daughter left home to study in London, I had to have a conversation about staying safe. I feel angry that I must bring up my daughter to manage a world where she can come across those that could try to overpower her physically and sexually. 

How far have we come? Not very far at all. The internet has readily available free pornography which usually depicts men in control of women. TV programmes are made aplenty about murder and abduction and are a regular evening’s entertainment for many. Meanwhile, the figures for women murdered are not falling. ‘Woman as victim’ has become normalised. 

Until there are laws and law enforcement that genuinely protect women, we are vulnerable. 

A motto I came across in the 1980’s (I think from the African National Congress Women’s League) is “a woman’s place is in the struggle.” I hope that Reclaim The Streets and all other such organisations use the fury we feel at the murder of yet another woman to push forward the absolute rights for women to be truly free and truly protected. We will continue the struggle…because we are strong.”

April Ventour-Griffiths and Laney Holland from Creating Equalz

“We at Creating Equalz remember all women who have died at the hands of violence from men.

We are passionate about providing a platform for black and brown women to achieve equality.

This case has increased our focus on ensuring not only a voice, but an opportunity of a safe haven for those seldom heard.”

Lizzy Bowen, deputy leader of Northamptonshire County Council

“Sarah Everard’s story is so incredibly shocking, I have struggled to comprehend how and why she was taken away in such a brutal manner. There is never any logic as to why such tragedies as this happen and there is certainly no excuse for this extreme, callous behaviour.

In the past I have taken risks that today I just would not. My 22-year-old daughter and I discussed this at length and for young women, this social issue is further heightened. Her shock is my shock. 

My advice to all women is to please think very carefully when going out unaccompanied at night. If in doubt don’t walk home, get that taxi even if it seems like an expense too far. Of course, there is also a collective responsibility for men to do everything they can to change the way women feel on our streets. This starts by talking to male friends, calling out misogyny, troubling behaviour and language in other men, and so on.

May elections will soon be upon us and safety is of utmost importance. It’s quite clear that everyone must work together to change this social issue.”