Text me when you get home: Will women and girls ever feel safe?

Text me when you get home: Will women and girls ever feel safe?

2 weeks ago

Sarah Everard's mother Susan lets out a silent scream at the time her daughter was abducted every evening. The grief-stricken mother says, "Don’t get in the car, Sarah. Don’t believe him. Run!" to a daughter, she will never hold again. There are simply no words strong enough to describe the statement Susan made in court this week. As police officer Wayne Couzens sat mere metres away from her, the mum spoke strongly about the future that was stolen from Sarah. "I yearn for her. I remember all the lovely things about her: she was caring, she was funny. She was clever, but she was good at practical things too. She was a beautiful dancer. She was a wonderful daughter. She was always there to listen, to advise, or simply to share with the minutiae of the day. And she was also a strongly principled young woman who knew right from wrong and who lived by those values. She was a good person. She had a purpose to her life."

I have not stopped thinking of both Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa all week. My mind is awash with heartache, anger, grief, fear, and every emotion in between. Women across the world will understand what I'm talking about. It's a haunting feeling, one so many of us are all too used to. We cannot go for walks alone. We cannot walk in the park. We cannot be out in the dark. We cannot exist on this planet without fearing for our safety. And it's not because of how we dress or because of our appearance or the time on the clock or the isolated street or because it was dark. Don't we deserve to be safe? Don't we deserve to feel like we can walk down the road without panicking when we hear footsteps behind us? Didn't Sarah Everard deserve to reach her home? Didn't Sabina Nessa deserve to make it to the pub to spend time with her friends? Don't future generations deserve to feel safe for the first time? Isn't it time for our daughters, our friends, our sisters, our nieces, and granddaughters to feel safe? Too many generations have been forced to just accept that this is the world that we live in. Why is there always an excuse when a woman is murdered? Why does the length of her skirt matter or the time she was walking home? Why are the focus, blame, and pressure placed on us? Why is this our problem to fix? Why do people search for reasons and excuses rather than accepting that there are violent, cruel, and monstrous men walking among us?

There's a sense of sisterhood that spreads across the world. There's an understanding that we will stand by one another no matter what. We will pretend to know the girl on the train who is being harassed by the drunk man. We will tell our friends to text us when they're home. We cling to our keys and pretend to be on the phone. We stay on busy, populated streets and never take shortcuts. We feel relief when our male friends offer to walk us home. We check in on one another. We are each other's bodyguards, comrades, and soul sisters. The responsibility shouldn't fall on our shoulders, but it does.

We worry about the daughters we will have in the future. We panic when our friends take too long to reply to us after parting ways after a night out. We feel our stomachs fill with dread when a friend calls and says a man in a bar won't leave her alone. As parents, the trauma, heartache, and complete and utter turmoil both Sarah and Sabina's mothers are now going through is hard to even comprehend. How on earth can we help our daughters feel safe on a planet where the people who should protect us are the ones harming us? How can we ease their worries and fears? Adolescent psychologist Angela Karanja told HerFamily that every parent or guardian needs to have an open conversation with their daughter as soon as possible. This isn't a topic we can dance around. "Teens need to have a safe space to process the news they hear. Otherwise, we don't know the trauma that is being stored in their brain and bodies. First, we as a society need to admit that something is just not right and unfortunately these 2 young women have been failed by society. Reiterate to the girls you talk to that it’s not the woman’s fault for what has happened to them. Ask the girls their thoughts, fears, anxiety, and apprehension about the news. Then ask them what they feel should be done. Constantly remind the girls that what happened to those young women is just not right and there is no excuse for that. Every person should feel and be able to be safe wherever they are."

"Constantly remind the girls that what happened to those young women is just not right and there is no excuse for that."

"Discuss with the girls their views on educating boys to respect girls. Talk about instances of threat or harassment that they may have overlooked and why it’s very important to report these no matter how insignificant they seem. Talk with the girls about the measures that society can take to hold these offenders accountable for their actions. Identify any ways in which a clear message has been sent by the law to show this offense is unacceptable in any way, form, or shape. Talk about and evaluate practical steps to keep safe."

These aren't conversations any parent wants to have. It would be much easier to carry on believing that this planet is kind to women, that this planet is safe for women, but the truth is it isn't. "Hearing and seeing what has happened to your own kind (in this case young women) sends a message to many girls that this is likely to happen to them and it is scary. The identification theory states that we are likely to assimilate the beliefs and experiences of other people that look like us. Consequently, our girls are likely to be living in fear. The constant fear state of mind is not healthy at all. We know that fear shuts down creativity, boldness, and the propensity to dream and keeps people on the defense. How can someone live a full life if they are constantly on defense? This fear can also be transferred to other people who have nothing to do with the crime. For example, the generalising of men as dangerous. Not only does this keep girls in fear but can hamper healthy relationships with even males who are not dangerous. Karanja added, "As a parent of a teen myself and also in my position as an adolescent psychologist I’d invite every parent to speak with their girl about this and the boys too. The boys need to learn how to be kind and what is not acceptable."

"What I do know is that Sarah will never be forgotten and is remembered with boundless love."

Sarah Everard's mother will never forget her daughter, but neither will any woman who followed the story with a heavy heart. As many have said before it could have been any of us. It could have been you or your sister or your best friend. This is the world women are forced to live in and accept, but something has to give. Wayne Couzens may spend the rest of his life in prison, but how many more poisonous and noxious men like him roam our streets? How many more women need to be taken for society to make this world safer for us? We've already lost too many sisters at the hands of an evil man. We cannot let it continue. We can honour their memories and pay tribute to them, but as Susan said in court, no sentence will ever bring her little girl back. Couzens stole her daughter from her. He stole a friend, a sister, a granddaughter. He tore Sarah's future away from her without a second thought.

Her mother shared, "Each day dawns and I think, Sarah should be here, leading her life and embracing new experiences. She had so many years ahead of her. I don’t know how anyone could be so cruel as to take my daughter’s life. What I do know is that Sarah will never be forgotten and is remembered with boundless love."

I've got a list of baby girl names written on my phone, a small collection of classic children's books on the top of my bookshelf. I'm not sure when I'll become a mam, but all I hope is that when I do welcome my daughter into the world, it'll be a safer and kinder place for women to be. All I hope is for this fear to ease and for this nightmare to finally end. Isn't it the least we deserve? To feel safe on the planet we call home?