Britain’s most senior police officer has sought to reassure women it is safe to walk the streets of London at night after one of her officers was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering a 33-year-old woman.
Sarah Everard’s disappearance and the announcement that human remains had been found prompted women to flood social media with posts about the steps they take to keep safe when out alone at night, including clutching keys to use as a weapon and wearing running shoes in case they need to escape.
Others detailed a catalogue of incidents of harassment by men in public over the decades since they were schoolgirls.
“These are so powerful because each and every woman can relate,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said. “Every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence.”
Everard was last seen at 9:30 p.m. on March 3 as she walked home from a friend’s house in south London. Her image, smiling at the camera or caught on CCTV that evening, has been splashed across British newspapers all week.
‘Women aren’t safe on our streets’
An officer, a man in his 40s whose job it was to guard diplomatic buildings, has been arrested on suspicion of murder, kidnap and indecent exposure, while a woman in her 30s was also detained on suspicion of assisting an offender.
“The disappearance of Sarah and the absolute tragedy around that has really touched a nerve with a lot of women,” said Anna Birley, 31, one of the organizers of a planned Reclaim These Streets vigil to honour Everard and demand change.
“We feel really angry that it’s an expectation put on women that we need to change our behaviour to stay safe. The problem isn’t women, the problem is that women aren’t safe on our streets,” said Birley.
The London police force has said the officer, who works for the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, had not been on duty the night Everard disappeared. Multiple reports from British news outlets indicate his most recent shift before that was at the U.S. embassy.
Cressida Dick, the head of London’s police force, said she and her colleagues were “utterly appalled” at news a serving officer had been arrested, saying it had sent waves of “shock and anger” through the public and the police.
“I know Londoners will want to know that it is thankfully incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted from our streets,” she said.
“But I completely understand that despite this, women in London and the wider public, particularly those in the area where Sarah went missing, will be worried and may well be feeling scared.”
Reaction from a Labour MP:
The Met Commissioner has said that police investigating Sarah Everard’s disappearance have found what appear to be human remains.<br><br>It may be some time before they can confirm the identity.<br><br>My thoughts and prayers are with Sarah’s loved ones.<a href=”https://t.co/1WMo4JqQLR”>https://t.co/1WMo4JqQLR</a>
Police continued to question the officer on Thursday. A woman in her 30s, who media reported was the officer’s wife, was also detained on suspicion of assisting an offender, but has since been released on bail.
England’s police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, said it had launched an investigation into the London police force’s handling of the case.
The officer who was arrested was reported to police on Feb. 28 over allegations of indecent exposure in a south London fast food restaurant, several days before Everard disappeared.
Although the remains have not yet been formally identified, Everard’s family released a statement, saying their “beautiful daughter Sarah was taken from us and we are appealing for any information that will help to solve this terrible crime.”
“Sarah was bright and beautiful — a wonderful daughter and sister. She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable,” the family said.
Vigil planned for Saturday
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was shocked and deeply saddened by the developments.
“The message that needs to be sent is that male violence is something that has to be tackled and challenged and the justice system and society has to wake up to that,” said Jess Phillips, the opposition Labour Party’s spokesperson on domestic violence.
“At the moment we just simply don’t take it seriously as we take other crimes.”
Phillips on Thursday read out in the chamber of the House of Commons the names of 118 women killed in the United Kingdom last year in cases in which a man has been charged or convicted. It took her more than four minutes to read the list.
Since last year on this day, these are the women killed in the UK where a man has been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator in the case. <a href=”https://t.co/CTaLOc0F5v”>pic.twitter.com/CTaLOc0F5v</a>
The hashtags #saraheverard and #TooManyMen trended online as women relayed their experiences, prompting men to ask what they should do differently, such as not walking closely behind a woman on her own.
Some pointed out online the concerning drop in prosecutions of sexual assault, though it’s not clear if it is specifically applicable to the Everard case.
Only 1.5 per cent of 57,516 rape cases recorded in England and Wales led to a charge in the year up to September 2020, official data showed last month, with 42 per cent of cases failing due to evidential difficulties, such as victims not supporting further action.
Rape prosecutions hit a record low of 2,102 in 2019-2020, down about 30 per cent year on year, while convictions fell by 25 per cent to 1,439, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Amid warnings the system is failing survivors, the CPS has set out a five-year blueprint to ensure sex offenders are brought to justice, including improving communications with victims and working with police to strengthen cases.
The Reclaim The Streets vigil is set to be held Saturday night at Clapham Common, near the place where Everard was