What Happens When Your Protector Becomes Your Attacker?

Sarah Everard and society’s failures to protect women

The case of Sarah Everard has captured the attention of Britain in a way that few disappearances do; provoking days of headlines and round-the-clock TV coverage. There was something grotesquely gripping, and almost surreal, about watching the truth about Everard finally unfold; first that she was missing, then that it was suspected she had been kidnapped — and by a serving police officer no less — then that a body had been found, and shortly later that the body was in fact hers; discarded thoughtlessly in the woods.

The case has elicited such a strong visceral reaction because of just how unsettling it is; Everard was forcefully taken in the middle of night not just by anyone, but by someone whose job it was to protect people like her. Everard’s kidnapping and murder doesn’t just question the societal assumptions we’ve all long clung to — it dismantles them; burning them down to little more than ashes and then stomping on those ashes. Like most cases of violence against women, what happened to Everard didn’t happen in isolation, it is inextricably tied to a deeper systematic failure. As shocking as the Everard case is, the idea that those in a position to protect — in this case, a police officer — can and often do, do the opposite is perhaps less of a revolution to the female half of the population than it is to the male half. To millions of women — and to other vulnerable groups, like people-of-colour and the LGBTQ+ community — the idea that your supposed ‘protector’, be it a police officer, a parent or an employer, could in fact be your assailant is not some distant hypothetical, but a very real, looming, ever-present reality. Be it in the workplace, in the home or on the streets guarded by “reassurance patrols”, for so many the idea that those who have been designated with power over you in the name of your own interest and protection can instead use that power against you is nothing new.

In the wake of the arrest of Everard’s killer, much of the discussion online revolved around a fringe proposal brought up by one of the House of Lord’s only two Green Party members — Baroness Jones suggested a 6pm curfew on men in the UK. The proposal was quickly dismissed by those across the political spectrum.

Watching the discussion around Everard’s murder begin to revolve around this untenable, undesirable and unpopular proposal made me frustrated in a way that caught me off guard. I did not agree with the proposal and I did not feel any desire to defend it, so why was the sight of my Twitter feed being filled with people laughing off this proposal making me angry?

My hope for what will come out of Sarah Everard’s horrific ordeal is for change, for real justice; justice not just for Everard herself, but for all the women who are destined to become future-Sarah Everard’s if something doesn’t change

As I thought more about it, I realised the reasons for my response were multi-dimensional and actually had very little to do with the proposal itself. The sight of watching mostly men laugh off this policy and change the discussion from one about the very real dangers faced by women to one about some hypothetical, far-off, all-encompassing threat to men was infuriating. The dismissive tone employed felt viscerally inappropriate too; the proposal itself may be wrong-headed, but the feelings of desperation and angst behind it, and more importantly, behind (more generally) the fears of women across Britain are very real.

Watching the discourse evolve, and devolve, in real time gave off a disconcerting sense of déjà vu; an unshakeable feeling that we’d been here before and would be here again. A woman is a victim of male violence, women and their allies rise up in anger and, demand change and then, men change the discussion to something less ‘uncomfortable’; something that proposes less of a threat to their privileged positions in society. I couldn’t shake that depressing, resigned feeling of ‘what a waste’; yet another life has been cut short and, yet another opportunity for real change seems to be slowly leaving the station in real time.

Part of what I’ve realised since the Everard news broke is how inseparable the emotional gut punch of this story is to the general political and cultural background against which it has occurred. Over the last few years, we have watched as countless injustices — police brutality, sexual misconduct, climate change, gun violence — have risen to a boiling point and inspired mass uprisings only for little-to-nothing to happen in response from our politicians — who are at best feckless and at worst insidious in their intentions.

Just last week, the British tabloids had a feeding frenzy over Meghan Markle and Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey; in which they exposed both shocking stories about the Royal Family and also intimate tales of personal anguish — nearly all of which were deeply entangled with the racist, bullying culture of major British institutions.

As part of their prolonged, and regrettably successful, campaign to make Markle the most hated member of the Royal Family (excluding, perhaps, a certain friend of Epstein), the media reached new lows in the wake of the Oprah interview. Most notably, Piers Morgan casually dismissed Markle’s confession of suicidal tendencies (“I don’t believe a word she says”) and then proceeded to quit the show he had co-hosted since 2015.

Morgan’s dismissal of Meghan’s struggle with the most serious displays of mental anguish, and the casual tone in which he did it, was just one reminder of how frequently men dismiss the experiences, fear and pain of women. The ensuing discussion around Morgan’s exit, and the idea he had been unfairly pushed out in the name of cancel culture, was a reminder of how discussions originally centred around the strife of women almost always transform into distorted, male-centred narratives.

If I have one hope for what will come out of Sarah Everard’s horrific ordeal — beyond, obviously, the conviction and life-long imprisonment of her killer — it is for change, for real justice; justice not just for Everard herself, but for all the women who are destined to become future-Sarah Everard’s if something doesn’t change. Given this country’s centuries long tradition of failing women, the level of faith I have in this actually happening is low. But if I’ve learnt anything from the past — both from the times where I held the misguided belief that progress can be simply relied upon to occur with the passage of time and, also from the times I’ve fallen into the black hole of despondency — I know that how much or little faith you have that things will change is no indicator for how much can, or will, be achieved.

The arc of the moral universe can and does bend toward justice, but only because we make it so.

Political analysis | Bylines: Rantt Media, Extra Newsfeed, PMP Magazine, Backbench, Dialogue and Discourse | Editor: Breakthrough

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