This past month has been a difficult one for most women and misogyny-affected individuals* (MA individuals). On Wednesday 10th March, Sarah Everard’s death was confirmed after her disappearance from Clapham Common on Wednesday 3rd March.
Sarah’s tragic death and a UN Women’s survey, finding that 97% of women have faced sexual harassment in the UK, have sparked important discussions about the sexual harassment and violence directed towards women and misogyny-affected individuals in their lifetimes.
I am usually very outspoken about feminism, toxic masculinity, and rape culture, yet this past month I have struggled to articulate many thoughts beyond anger and sadness in the wake of Sarah’s death.
There is only one conclusion I keep coming back to, which is that we should be able to address the pervasive issue of sexual harassment and violence directed towards women and MA individuals, without placing a burden on them to share their stories and address the hurt that has been inflicted upon them.
I can imagine that most women and MA individuals are not particularly surprised by the 97% statistic of sexual harassment in the UK – it was disturbing but not unexpected information for me.
As we have seen with the Sarah Everard case, you can do all the “right” things and still become a victim of sexual violence and femicide
We have been taught from a young age, that there are a set of “rules” that must be followed to avoid sexual harassment and assault: don’t wear certain clothes, don’t drink too much, don’t go out after dark, walk with keys between your hands.
We alter our clothing, our schedules, our demeanour, and our activities, but the terrifying reality is that none of these behaviours will stop sexual violence if the perpetrator has an intent to harm you.
As we have seen with the Sarah Everard case, you can do all the “right” things and still become a victim of sexual violence and femicide.
The idea that sexual harassment and assault can be prevented by changing behaviour of women and MA individuals is flawed and problematic, as it shifts responsibility onto the victim rather than the perpetrator that has chosen to harass and assault someone (hence the term victim-blaming).
The only way to truly prevent sexual violence is to address the environment of rape culture and toxic masculinity that facilitates perpetrators.
We must abandon the sentiment of “boys will be boys” and challenge predatory and misogynistic behaviour as it emerges
While it is not all men that directly perpetrate sexual violence against women and MA individuals, you can still be part of the problem even if you are not a perpetrator of sexual violence.
Statistically speaking, men are most likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, so we must abandon the sentiment of “boys will be boys” and challenge predatory and misogynistic behaviour as it emerges in young boys and men.
The responsibility should also fall on grown men to recognise and challenge predatory and misogynistic behaviours in themselves and the men they surround themselves with.
Actions and behaviour that contributes to the problem of sexual violence include; making allowances for predatory and misogynistic behaviour, invalidating the experiences of women and MA individuals, and victim-blaming survivors of sexual violence.
Now, more than ever, it’s important for men to speak out and challenge these behaviours, as staying silent makes women and MA individuals “question if you really care about our safety and security” (quoted from the Instagram account @thatopinionatedbitch).
In light of the statistic that 97% of women have been sexually harassed, it is incredibly important not to make assumptions about whether you know women or MA individuals that have faced sexual harassment and assault.
No woman or MA individual owes you their experiences with sexual violence
Even if they do not feel comfortable sharing their story, it is highly likely that most of the women and MA individuals you know have had at least one such traumatic experience.
Moreover, if you have previously demonstrated that you are not inclined to believe the stories of women and MA individuals, do not be surprised if they have chosen not to confide in you.
No woman or MA individual owes you their experiences with sexual violence. It should not take hearing about the sexual violence that your mother, your sister, your friends, or your partner have faced, before you decide to care about stopping sexual violence.
All women and MA individuals are deserving of respect and dignity, regardless of their relationship to you.
To any woman or MA individual that has felt able to share their experiences with sexual violence – I am proud of you and I stand with you.
At the end of the day, who you choose to tell your story to is entirely your decision and should happen only when you feel ready
I am in no way dismissing the courage it takes to open up to others and tell them that you have faced sexual violence during your life. I just feel that it is necessary to acknowledge that processing your experience with sexual violence can take time and it is absolutely valid if you do not feel comfortable sharing your story.
As explained in an article by Very Well Mind, there is no set timeline for when you may feel comfortable enough to open up about what you have experienced: “It’s up to you to decide when you’re ready, who to tell, and how much you want to share.”
If you decide to confide in someone, the article emphasises that you should talk to someone that is kind, easy to talk to and shows you love and respect. At the end of the day, who you choose to tell your story to is entirely your decision and should happen only when you feel ready.
Survivors Trust helpline: 08088 010 818
Nottinghamshire Sexual Violence Support helpline: 0115 941 0440
Nightline (a listening service run by UoN students): 0115 951 4980
University of Nottingham Student Welfare service: firstname.lastname@example.org
Samaritans (24/7 helpline): 116 123
Samaritans (email address): email@example.com
*Misogyny-affected individuals (abbreviated to MA individuals) refers to individuals that do not identify as women but are/have been affected by misogyny.
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