OPINION: Sarah Everard death sparks global conversation on sexual violence

She was just walking home from a friend’s house. 

She was following all the “rules” — wearing brightly colored clothes, walking along the well-lit streets, and was talking on the phone with her boyfriend. 

And yet she was still kidnapped, murdered, and potentially raped by Wayne Couzens — a supposedly trusted police officer with the London Metropolitan Police. 

For those who are unaware, that is the story of how 33-year-old Sarah Everard died on March 3rd, 2021. 

Everard’s death sparked a vocal conversation as women around the world expressed their frustrations with the dangers they face daily in today’s society. They began to take the discussion to social media where countless women shared their stories and experiences with sexual assault, sexual harrasment, and the like.

What essentially was the revival of a virtual #MeToo movement quickly turned controversial as men, politicians, and other celebrities began to voice their opinion on the matter which only cluttered social media platforms and buried the true purpose of the whole discussion — women don’t feel safe living their everyday lives in fear of becoming a victim.

Society has created a culture where this kind of behavior is normalized and it comes from various types of influences — the most critical being state governments.

For instance, the Minnesota State Supreme Court recently made a court decision in March that a person who is sexually assaulted while intoxicated does not fit the designation for a more serious charge if he or she consumed the alcohol or drugs voluntarily.

But how does one take alcohol or drugs involuntarily?

What does this mean for victims of date rape? 

Yes, they would technically fall under the ‘intoxicated involuntarily’ category but that doesn’t guarantee protection in a court of law. Depending on the trial, those victims might never see justice against their attackers. 

And what does this law mean for victims of date rape who were voluntarily intoxicated before they were involuntarily drugged? 

Ultimately, there’s too many variables and moving parts that this law fails to protect any victim of sexual assault, voluntarily or not.  

What is even more alarming is that it’s not just Minnesota either who has this twisted law. As of 2016, 40 other states have similar ones. 

Illinois fortunately is not part of those 40. Sexual assault victims still have a chance at justice against their attackers even if they were under the influence — voluntary or involuntary — and were unable to provide consent. 

What this really boils down to is that this is just the government’s way of victim blaming and that’s never okay. No one sets out with the intention of getting assaulted in any form and it’s ludicrous to think we’ve given attackers an out in the legal system, invalidating women and their traumatic experiences. 

If this isn’t indicative that we’re living in a man’s world, I don’t know what is. 

But because we are living in a man’s world, it’s also important to acknowledge and discuss that the ‘How to Protect Yourself 101’ talk many mothers have with their teenage daughters has become disgustingly normalized as well. 

‘Don’t wear too tight of clothing, don’t wear too short of skirts, always watch your drink if you’re going out, avoid getting gas at a gas station at night, refrain from running or walking too late at night, travel in groups with your friends, don’t get an Uber by yourself, be aware of your surroundings when you’re walking to your car, check your front and back seats and under your car, lock your car doors immediately when you get in, don’t stop to remove any advertisements or props placed on your car because it might be a sex trafficking ploy, wear brightly colored clothes, talk on the phone with someone when you’re walking home, stay in populated, well-lit areas etc., etc., etc.’

That’s only the short list. 

Then of course there’s the ‘How to Protect Yourself 101: College Edition’ talk which is a whole other can of worms. 

Sarah Everard followed all the rules and so have thousands of other women in Everard’s position but the reality is the unspoken rules of being a woman aren’t enough to protect them. 

These instances can happen anytime, anywhere, and in anything which boils down again to one point: women don’t feel safe and can’t feel safe existing in their day to day lives. 

This isn’t an issue that needs or can be solved by women. It needs to be an all-in effort from regular people in society to our state and federal governments. 

From this point, there are two approaches we can take: one, we continue to brush everything under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or two, we can acknowledge that the data supports the women’s argument and there’s a real issue that needs to be addressed. 

This is a systemic issue constantly reinforced by the high number of dropped or dismissed cases within police departments and court trials. The legal system is continuously failing to thoroughly investigate sexual violence crimes leaving victims with their assailants walking free and no sense of closure. 

This is going to take decades to change but each small step forward puts us closer to obtaining a safer environment for women and that’s the most important end goal. 

From this point, there are two approaches we can take: one, we continue to brush everything under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. Or two, there’s a real issue that needs to be addressed.

April is sexual assault awarness month so there are a few things we can all do to continue the conversation for change. 

For the men, talk to your female friends, coworkers, peers, etc. about their experiences and listen. Understand what makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe and think about ways in which you can prevent that feeling in the future. Be an ally to women. Don’t back away from this conversation because it’s ‘uncomfortable.’

For the women, continue the conversation. No, it’s never easy to talk about your experiences with sensitive topics of conversation like this one, but the more society hears and understands what’s going on behind closed doors, the more we can make a change.

For everyone, in light of sexual assault awarness month, provide a judgement free environment for the men and women brave enough to come forward with their stories. Do not victim blame them for what happened but listen to what they have to say. Don’t make the conversation about you or give your opinions. Simply listen and acknowledge the victim’s grief. 

Also, continue to support the Me Too movement. The BLM movement gained so much momentum because they were persistent and we’re starting to see conversations take place about police brutality and appropriate reforms. Take inspiration from that and prove that you’re serious about change. 

It’s a lot harder said than done but moving forward, just be a decent human. Treat everyone with respect and start acknowledging that issues bigger than yourself do exist and need to be challenged.  

Don’t let this discussion die with the month of April.

Samantha Anderson is a staff writer for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl

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