Trigger warning: Mention of R*pe and Sexual Violence
Violence against women and girls, according to worldbank.org, is a global pandemic that affects 1 in 3 women in their lifetime. The statistics are staggering and the numbers are on the rise. Many cases have recently caught the public’s attention, the most prominent being the case of Sarah Everard, a 33-year old marketing executive who went missing on the way home from a friend’s house. Such events serve as a reminder of the prevalence of violence against women – especially as many women take this as an opportunity to share their own stories, revealing that Sarah’s is not at all an isolated case. The conversations online around women’s safety, rape culture, and the role of men in solving the problem has resurfaced as a result, and with it the hashtag #NotAllMen.
Sarah Everard: The Murder That Shocked The World
Sarah should still be here.
“Sarah could have been me.”
On March 18th 2021, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson responded to the killing of Sarah Everard with an official statement. After a discussion on Domestic Abuse Bill, he announces plans of filing “misogyny and hostility based on sex” as a hate crime in England and Wales.
The missing person’s report on Sarah was filed on March 4th 2021 by her boyfriend, Josh Lowth. Following that, the police conducted an investigation and spoke to around 800 people in search of evidence.
Eventually, CCTV footage was found, capturing her last known sighting in Clapham Common, a neighbourhood surrounded by busy streets which she passed through on the night of her murder, which now hosts her memorial site.
Due to the Covid-19 lockdowns, citizens were encouraged to avoid public transportation and opt for walking or driving. Sarah Everard did just that by taking a walk home, on main roads despite smaller streets being a faster option. On her walk, she had a short call with her boyfriend and that was the last he heard of her.
March 9th, the Metropolitan Police revealed that they had detained Wayne Couzens as a suspect in her disappearance. He was a serving police officer at the age of 48, married with a family.
On March 10th, the young woman’s remains were discovered in a bag located near Ashford, south-east London. Identified through dental reports and a couple of post-mortem autopsies, her cause of death is still undetermined.
“shocking and deeply disturbing”, as Nick Ephgrave, the Assistant Commissioner called this case, with the suspect being an active police officer and someone who had also served in the army for 2 years. It has been reported that his plea hearing is arranged to take place in July and his trial in October.
The Prime Minister also announced immediate actions to reassure the safety of women. Improving lighting and CCTV coverage on roads and neighbourhoods is in the works through an increase in funding. Besides that, there are plans of having police officers on patrol out of uniform. The latter solution has been declared by some, as the opposite of reassuring, considering the main suspect of the recent case was a police officer. This fact raised a vigil as the community was enraged by Sarah’s attack by a policeman, chanting collectively, “Sarah could have been me”.
Meanwhile, Sarah’s family and friends are mourning a lost daughter, sister and friend. She left behind her father, her mother, her brother and sister as they all prepared for her funeral. Shortly after her body was discovered, her family stated that she will be remembered as “bright, beautiful, kind, thoughtful, caring and dependable”.
Others who knew her also claimed that “she had an amazing sense of humour”. India Rose, Sarah’s friend even took to Facebook to share that Sarah was “Open, honest, and empathetic.” The former marketing executive was also praised by her former colleague, Peter McCormack, as he described her as “Optimistic, sincere, hardworking, loyal, happy and beautiful”. He continued with a post on Facebook stating, “Our clients loved her, the team loved her, everyone loved Sarah. From that moment she came into our lives, she made it better,”
Sarah’s murder didn’t just affect those who knew her personally. It has also ignited outrage and angered communities around the world, raising the topic of women’s safety and violence against women. A QC for womens’ rights, Baroness Helena Kennedy, has been in the fight for 3 decades and recently made a statement to the ABC that resonated with women worldwide.
She claimed that “while not all men have abused and harassed women, every woman has experienced violation in some form. I think people are now seeing the weight of what women are going through and we (women) have had enough.” She continued, “There’s still this level of intimidation harassment, violence, and it starts on the small end, and it goes to this end, but it’s all part of the same thing and I’m afraid it’s misogyny, and we have to find ways in our society of confronting it.”
Sarah’s case is only the tip of the iceberg
1 in 3 women (and nearly 1 in 6 men) worldwide experience sexual violence in their lifetime. 1 in 6 women (and 1 in 19 men) experience stalking in their lifetime. Between the ages of 15 and 49 years, 27% of women in a relationship reported experiencing violence from their intimate partner and 38% of murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 6 women are killed by men every hour, usually by a partner or known family member.
Violence against women has severe effects on society as a whole. Some countries are estimated to have a resulting GDP loss of up to 3.7%. This exceeds double the amount spent on the countries’ education. The loss can be a result of women having to withdraw from work and daily activities causing a loss in wages. It is also due to women losing the ability to care for themselves and their children effectively. Children growing up in violent homes have a higher likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating violence in their future, causing the culture and social damage to perpetuate.
This is not to mention the severe effects on the survivors themselves. 42% of women who experience intimate partner violence report having a resulting injury and it is not uncommon for altercations to end in homicide or suicide. These women are also 1.5 times more likely to contract a STI (sexually transmitted infection), twice as likely to go through abortion due to unwanted pregnancies, 16% more likely to undergo a miscarriage, and 41% more likely to have a preterm birth.
Additionally, they are also at higher risk for psychological disorders and the resulting physical effects, with survivors being twice as likely to develop depression and problem-drinking. Rape and sexual assault are also socio-economically independent. That is, they affect women and girls of all backgrounds with no boundaries.
In Malaysia, reported sexual harassment cases have increased significantly over the years and the vast majority of victims are women. Almost 1000 cases of sexual harassment against women were reported to Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) between 2013 & 2017 compared to 260 against men. The most affected states are Kuala Lumpur (17.2% of cases), Johor (16.5%), and Selangor (15.7%).
Is Rape Culture to Blame?
In many communities, the prevalent culture is presumed to be enabling these forms of attacks against women. Rape culture includes any culture that promotes aggressive and sexually dominant behavior as the norm for men. It is commonly associated with phrases such as “Boys will be boys” – which can be used to excuse abusive behavior as “boys’ nature”, or “She was asking for it” – which assumes that women who dress a certain way are automatically inviting such advances.
This culture can be rooted in the messages that men receive from a young age of what healthy sexual behavior looks like, often coming from pornography or from poor male role models. It is considered a major perpetrator of violence against women and one that should be addressed when developing a solution to the problem.
Rape Prevention vs Risk Reduction efforts
Rape/ Primary Prevention holds the purpose of preventing assaults from occurring as primary prevention techniques allow the recognition and identification of potential perpetrators before there is a victim. With perpetrators often being men, primary prevention programs are usually organised and targeted for men. Due to this, some men are taking the proactive approach when dealing with the matter of rape culture by partaking in programs and training aimed to help them unpack and unlearn hegemonic masculinity. The fundamental objective of these efforts is to spread awareness to the community on the effects and damage of rape. These plans and programs usually involve “educating people on the concept of consent, and how to intervene, to interrupt or stop a sexual assault in progress.” Aside from that, the educational plans also involve; reviewing stances on sexual assault, discussing the impact of gender roles, establishing a healthy understanding of sexuality and sexual content, as well as setting and respecting boundaries from others and ourselves. Rape Prevention is gradually becoming the leading method to deter sexual assaults as it removes the blame and pressure from the victims/ potential victims.
Risk Reduction, however, centers on lessening the probability of potential victims through the efforts of the victims themselves. This is seen in efforts such as self-defense classes, products that can detect date-rape drugs, rape whistles, or the buddy system practised by most women. Other common risk-reduction techniques incorporate: cultivating an awareness of rape myths/ culture, comprehending sexual assault statistics, exercising verbal defenses, understanding both stranger and non-stranger assailant approaches, and studying relationship red flags. Despite these strategies being a great contributor to most victims surviving attacks, it is questionable and problematic in the sense that it is somewhat of a message to victims or vulnerable communities that they are responsible and accountable for their attacks and assaults. These tips and tricks also usually don’t take into consideration that most attacks are committed by someone known to the victim, whether it be a casual acquaintance or an intimate partner. In general, risk reduction efforts cause feelings of shame and self-blame in victims which further perpetuates damaging rape myths.
In brief, Primary Prevention is the efforts of generating comprehensive and extensive strategies and solutions to obstruct sexual violence before it’s committed. Risk Reduction is the efforts of equipping survivors or potential victims with the knowledge and skills to reduce the chances of their attacks and to defend themselves in the case of an attack.
After every major incident that catches the public’s attention, the conversation around violence against women resurfaces, and with it come responses along the lines of “Not all men” – arguing that not all men are at fault for such attacks and thus not all men should be held responsible.
The hashtag #NotAllMen has recently been trending following the Sarah Everard case. The last time it was trending was after the #MeToo movement which encouraged women to speak up about their experiences with rape and sexual assault.
With each time it trended, it caused an outrage as many women felt that it is dismissive of their traumatic experiences and diverts the attention towards the individuals trying to absolve themselves of blame – disregarding the much larger problem of violence against women. As this article from the University of Leeds puts it, “That is not helpful. All women know it is not all men. The problem is that often they don’t know which men until it is too late.”
The phrase received much attention, and even became an internet meme, because it seemed to consistently surface everywhere online. #NotAllMen is also an extension of the different but similar response of “What about men”, arguing that men also fall victim to violence and should not be excluded from the conversation.
The meme began as long ago as 2013, with the first viral tweet being:
In 2014, a comic by artist Matt Lubchansky went viral depicting “Not-All-Man”:
People using #NotAllMen often argue against the statements and safety precautions that are generalised to all men when only a subset of them are responsible for violent attacks. For example, following the Sarah Everard case, Baroness Jenny Jones argued in Britain’s House of Lords that introducing a 6pm curfew for men in the UK would create a safer environment for women. Many people argued that this level of restriction would be unfair to men.
Some of the responses to #NotAllMen aim to remind men of their responsibility to help create a safe environment for women around them, especially considering they can often be in a better position to make a change. They suggest that men should pay attention to their behavior and to that of their peers, and should make an effort to discourage violence against women and the cultures that normalize it.
Despite the contention, the generally agreed-upon sentiment is that it is necessary to make communities safer for women. While traditionally many cultures tend to tackle this by telling women to dress differently, carry a form of defense, and limit their movement in public spaces, more attention is now brought to how men can contribute to their safety.
Written By: Shay Azman and Hiba Azhari
Edited by: Wu Wen Qi