Men of Canterbury and beyond, you can't ignore the reality of violence against women anymore
Amber Lennox 6 April 2021
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of InQuire Media
TW: Sexual assault/ violence
Image courtesy of Spyros Papaspyropoulos on Flickr
A vulnerable young woman was killed. Vulnerable despite doing everything “right”: her walk was short enough, she had her earphones in, head down, “covered up”, on the phone for half of her journey, others knew of her whereabouts. Any woman reading this recognises these steps we take to stay safe, to look like we are NOT “asking for it”. The only factor that made Sarah Everard vulnerable was the fact that she was a woman.
In Canterbury, women have come forward and shared stories of harassment and assault they’ve suffered at the hands of predatory men on Canterbury’s streets on the Instagram page @canterburystories. The account allows victims to come forward anonymously and share their stories to raise awareness and in the hopes that other women can stay safer by avoiding certain locations. Today, a woman shared a horrifying story: as she was riding her bike down St Mildred’s Lane, ‘3 guys [were] waiting in a taxi on the corner and when I cycled past one of them jumped out to grab me… we checked and a while later the taxi was still waiting there’. The threat of harassment and sexual assault is present anywhere men and women coexist, which is a terrifying thought, and it is even more terrifying to realise that I, as a woman, am not safe in our city.
“Not all men, though.” But enough men are exercising such violence for it to be an issue that all men should be concerned about. 1 in 3 women, worldwide, will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. A woman is more likely to experience an assault than she is to get food poisoning. Even if you are not the perpetrator of such violence, standing by when your mates mistreat women makes you complicit nonetheless.
As part of my Drama GCSE, we did a lot of independent group work. In my group, there was one other girl and three boys. One week the other girl was off sick, and I was on my own. I remember the biggest boy in the group suddenly grabbing my wrists and shouting at me: “I’m going to rape you, you stupid bitch,” “don’t go to sleep tonight, because I’ll be there, and once I’ve given it to you, I’ll burn your house down with you in it.” I was 15. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t respond, it felt like I couldn’t even breathe. He delivered those threats with such ease, as though those words wouldn’t ring in my ears for months, or as though he didn’t care that they would. Nobody batted an eyelid, the other boys in my group just…carried on. Most women have stories similar to mine and most have much more than one story to tell.
This is where it starts. Boys say things and girls hear them. Those same girls are then told that they’re the ‘mature one’s,’ whilst ‘boys will be boys’. There is an inherent lack of accountability from a very early age, and we are teaching our children to that women just need to take the abuse that men dish out. When a boy pulling a girl’s hair is interpreted as a sign that he likes her, a few years later when he sexually assaults her, is it a sign that he likes her, too? As a society, we need to stop telling ourselves that such acts are “harmless”. We all need to be on the same page on what is acceptable and what is not, so let me draw the line clearly here: unless a woman is explicitly giving consent, she is NEVER asking for it.
This issue has always been on women’s minds. The threat of violence dictates the choices we make daily to avoid an alleyway, avoid walking in the dark, and smile at a creepy man making advances on us to make sure the situation doesn’t escalate, to stay safe. The reality of violence against women can no longer be ignored: a lot of attention has been drawn to the issue by the tragic Sarah Everard case and now @canterburystories is shedding light on the horrific experiences women have faced in the very city we call “home”. But how can women comfortably call the city home when we’ve been given so many reasons to stay on guard and fear the worst?
There is no excuse to go on pretending it isn’t an issue or dismiss it with “not all men”. It is only by making this a social conversation, including everyone, that the threats women face will diminish and women can relax and feel safer traversing streets men likely walk through absent-mindedly.
So, men, here’s where to start: question the ‘jokes’ about women that seem harmless, because they’re not. Call out your friends when they do or say something about a woman that feels "off" because it’s probably misogyny disguised as banter. Don’t stand by when you see a man harassing a girl in public; if she looks uncomfortable, she likely is uncomfortable and in danger. Step in, ask how you can help.
It is only with men and women working together, that violence against women will end, and tragic cases like Sarah Everard’s shall truly become “history” – learned from, but never forgotten.