Asst. Opinions Editor
Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of rape, sex trafficking, and other forms of violence. Please read with caution.
We’ve tried apps. We’ve tried pepper spray and keys. We’ve tried tasers and stun guns. We’ve tried keychains. We’ve tried avoiding the bus and getting a taxi. We’ve tried phone calls. We’ve tried panic button pendants. We’ve tried walking during the daylight. We’ve tried screaming and running. We’ve tried to keep our heads down. We’ve hid in the crowds. Yet, whatever we do it isn’t enough because women are not the ones who need to change; it’s men. No matter what we do, we are still in near-constant fear of getting hurt or ending up dead.
On March 3, 33-year-old Sarah Everard had disappeared in South London after leaving a friend’s house on her walk home. She did everything that we as women are told to do if we have to walk alone at night: she wore bright clothing, called her boyfriend on her way home, and left her friend’s house on a well-lit street in London at a reasonable hour. Still, she never made it home that night.
On March 10, Everard’s body was found 50 miles away from where she was last seen alive. Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan police officer with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Unit, had kidnapped and killed her. I was horrified when I first heard about Everard’s death. As women, we are told what to do in order to prevent situations like this from happening, yet they still happen; women still go missing, end up raped or even dead just for being women. No amount of advice on how to prevent things like this from happening can help us. Instead of trying to change us, you must help protect us. We do not need to change our lifestyles; society needs to change their mindsets. This isn’t a ‘boys will be boys’ situation. That’s an excuse, and I will no longer tolerate it. I no longer want to live in fear.
The justice system has failed women. They let predators go and roam free, and blame victims for what has happened to them. These systems have enabled men like Couzens to do their dirty work for them. At Everard’s vigil, the police force that Couzens worked for shut it down. This doesn’t surprise me, as most officers are known for victim-blaming survivors and protecting their predators. What infuriates me the most is that Couzens was one of them — someone whose job is to protect us. This man abused his power and killed Sarah Everard.
Aren’t we supposed to go to the police when we are in fear of getting hurt, instead of running from them? The justice system needs a huge reform, starting with their police force and how they treat women compared to their perpetrators.
In a report done by the Department of Justice on Baltimore City Police, they found that officers were abusing their power against people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. “We found that [the police department] has engaged in a pattern or practice of serious violations of the U.S. Constitution and federal law that has disproportionately harmed Baltimore’s African-American community and eroded the public’s trust in the police,” wrote Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. Not only are women the most common target, if you are a woman of color, you are more likely to be attacked.
Women of color experience both racialized and sexualized harassment and assault, stemming from the historical context of their experiences. An example of this can be shown from the history of Latin America, where the indigenous women were raped by the colonizers that came from Europe. After the Philippine-American War, World War II, and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the U.S. occupation in Asian countries propelled local sex industries and sex trafficking rings to serve soldiers. Black women were also routinely sexually assaulted during slavery in the U.S., as a “weapon of domination” with the goal of lessening slave women’s will to resist, and demoralizing their men. The institutionalized rape of Black women endured after slavery, with the Ku Klux Klan and other oppressive groups using rape to reinforce the oppression of the Black community.
These are what formed the stereotypes used against women of color today, which, in some ways, rationalized sexual violence. Latinas are hit with the stereotype of being lusty, sexually aggressive women who can capture any man’s attention. Asian women have been fetishized, exoticized, and sexualized as geishas, china dolls, lotus blossoms, or dragon ladies. Black women have the stereotype of being hypersexual, which historically comes from how their slave owners thought and treated them. Due to these stereotypes, along with economic vulnerability, women of color have been more susceptible to sexual harassment and assault than White women have been.
In a survey on of immigrant Latinas, at least 46 percent said they suffered some level of sexual abuse by authorities, family members, or strangers before reaching the U.S.; in migrant labor, sexual harassment and assault of women is quite common. This isn’t okay. History is just repeating itself, and women are being colonized all over again simply because of their skin color.
We, as women, should not be wary of having to be around others for fear of getting hurt. We are always told that we can’t wear this, or act like a ‘hoochie,’ or drink around this person because it’s inappropriate, but do you know what is actually inappropriate? Perpetrators are allowed around women. Parents need to start teaching their sons about consent and how to avoid being part of the problem in order for things like this to stop. Police need to start listening to survivors and be a source of comfort in times that are traumatizing; they shouldn’t be victim-blaming anyone. We need men to start believing women and actually listen! We need men to speak out against other men who have created this toxic culture where women are attacked just for existing. “It’s not all men” is just a stupid excuse to acquit this behavior against women.
I know it’s not all men, but it’s too many men, and enough men to be afraid! If the world would have learned earlier instead of following its misogynistic ways, Sarah Everard may still be alive today. But, no, because “it’s not all men,” right?
Featured Image: Courtesy of Sky News