Trigger warning: sexual abuse, body shaming, domestic abuse, domestic homicide.
When the abhorrent murder of Sarah Everard was reported vigorously by the national media, I thought that maybe this time they would take abuse against women seriously, maybe this was a needless death too far and finally as a society we would act and change to make women safe. A young woman whose life has been brutally cut short, surely this was a sign we need to change? But as a vigil of crying women was ripped apart, kettled, tackled and threatened it became clear that we are far away from change.
The feeling of anguish and anger from women across the country was palpable and still is. It could have been any of us, every woman I know has had incidents that made us feel unsafe and uncomfortable, things we glance back on and nervously laugh that we dodged a bullet or had a close call. I thought of the times I’ve walked home from work with keys clenched in my fist, metal cutting my palms as my steps get quicker because of the shadows around the corner. The figure out of the corner of my eye getting closer and closer.
The time I was spat at that I’m too fat and ugly to r*pe as I sat on a train, stuck in the carriage, beer breath on my neck and a hand creeping higher and higher. Austerity and privatisation removed guards from trains, leaving me to fend for myself against a drunken stag do until mercifully we pulled up at their stop before things went further.
The time I was assaulted in the dining hall in year 8 as teachers sat only metres away. Still my distress and fear were disregarded with the laughter of boys will be boys.
I thought about how, again and again, throughout women’s lives we are taught that women's safety is worth less than protecting men's egos. We live in a society where women have to debate what to wear on a first date or a night out because if our skirts are an inch too short even the judge will agree we were “asking for it”. We are taught to be mild and meek and friendly and to smile and to laugh at jokes that we don’t find funny otherwise we’re a cold frigid bitch who needs to lighten up.
From as soon as we learn to speak we are told we have to be accommodating and polite, otherwise, we are inviting trouble. We are told we should be scared of the dark and the strangers who lurk there but for women, it is not only strangers that we have to be scared of, we face threats in the forms of people we love and the people we live with.
The outcry of #NotAllMen just isn’t good enough. No, not all men but enough men. Enough to keep me employed at a women’s only domestic abuse charity, to make my occupation a cruel necessity, to keep women living in fear in their own homes. I’ve listened to calls that will never leave a dark corner in my mind, read reports that made my body shudder, sat through stories of abuse that sometimes mine will be the only ears ever to hear. The tears, the desperation, the loneliness down the end of the phone, knowing all I can do is listen, knowing the danger these women are living in.
One woman is murdered by her partner or ex-partner every three days. One murder, one life lost every three days due to domestic abuse, due to a person that at one point was someone they loved. These figures cover England and Wales alone. Between two small countries, just over 121 women are murdered on average each year as a result of domestic abuse, not accounting for the women who feel forced to end their own lives due to the abuse they have faced.
How many of those 121 murders have you heard of?
How many of their stories did you see on the news?
How many of their faces do you recognise?
How many of those women can you name?
These are not trick questions nor are they asked with any judgement. I can name under ten. I am a feminist, a VAWDASV specialist and a woman, and I can only name the names of seven women who were murdered. I write this with shame and embarrassment that should not only rest on my shoulders but on society’s as a collective because the murders of women and abuse of women pass us by silently on a daily basis. You see these incidents, these murders rarely make national news and we are lucky if they make the front page of the local paper twice before they were yesterday's news and are forgotten in the public eye. We are told they are rare incidents, that they are one-off tragedies, something that we shouldn’t worry about but when we are losing more than 120 women a year through domestic abuse, maybe it's time to consider that Corona Virus is not the only pandemic we are facing.
We need change now.
We need need to speak out and end the silence surrounding violence against women.
We need to fight to maintain, protect and extend our rights.
We need to defend our right to protest and to voice our truths in the face of institutions that fight against us.
We need to mourn, we need to cry and remember the wonderful, beautiful women that we have lost.
We need to learn their names, see their faces and listen to their stories.
We need to get angry about the danger and abuse we have to endure just because of our gender. We need to be furious that the murder and abuse of women is the status quo.
We need to unite, we need to organise and we need to protect ourselves as it is abundantly clear that nobody else will.
Lists of women who lost their lives due to domestic abuse in the UK can be found online. I encourage you to read them, say their names and keep them in your mind as we fight for a fair and safer world.
Sophie Williams / @sophlouw_
'The Virtual Vigil' is a series of perspectives, emotions and poems written in response to the current political climate. As a feminist art collective we want to use our space to empower the voices of those affected by gender based violence. In doing so, we hope to challenge existing narratives and teach men that they have a collective responsibility to speak up and call out inappropriate and violent behaviours. If you would like to take part in our virtual vigil, please feel welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Images by Emily Mort.