The disappearance of Sarah Everard in south London has once again led to women being advised by police to stay at home and be extra vigilant, according to a report in the Sun. Such warnings perpetuate damaging myths about danger, for example that only men can protect women and, ergo, women can’t protect themselves; that women are somehow complicit if they are outside and alone at night; and that night-time is dangerous and not the men responsible.
Regardless of what happened to Ms Everard, and like all those following this story I’m hoping that she is found safe and as soon as possible, there is a troubling theme in the police’s response. Whenever there are rumours that a serial rapist or killer of women is on the loose, women are warned to stay at home, despite the fact that most incidents of sexual assault and physical violence by men towards women and girls happens in the home.
It is so shameful that women are made to feel this way, and what’s particularly distressing to me is how many times I have heard similar advice from the police during my four decades of campaigning to end male violence.
I moved to Leeds in 1979, during the hunt for serial killer Peter Sutcliffe. I was 17-years old and had been raised, as had most girls, being warned that our safety was our own responsibility. ‘Don’t go out alone at night’, ‘don’t talk to strange men’, ‘cover your flesh if you don’t want to get yourself raped’. Men were rarely told that they were to blame for the fact that we constantly looked over our shoulder whenever we were out alone in case a predator was looking to strike.
As a response to West Yorkshire police issuing what was effectively a curfew on women, feminists organised the first Reclaim the Night