Drake students and faculty share their thoughts on how to move forward with women’s safety in response to the tragic murder of Sarah Everard in the UK.
Tess Dorman, a student majoring in strategic political communications and politics, provided a brief summary of the events surrounding Everard.
“A young woman named Sarah was walking home from her friend’s house late at night and she basically did everything right,” said Tess Dorman, a Strategic Political communications and Politics major. “She was wearing bright clothing, she walked in a lit place and she was on the phone with her boyfriend the entire time. She did everything people say women should do when they’re walking home at night, but then she was still kidnapped and killed by a man who was a police officer.”
Jennifer Konfrst, a professor at Drake University and an Iowa State Representative, expressed similar sentiments.
“The fact that [Everard] was still attacked when she did everything right tells us that it’s not the woman’s fault,” Konfrst said. “That right there should send a message that the woman wasn’t to blame in this instance. She never is, but the fact that she followed all the precautions and was still attacked shows you that there’s a problem with the man who attacked her and murdered her.”
Konfrst advocates for “a societal shift onto who is doing the attacking and how to stop the attacking from happening.”
Jenna Baker, a first-year student majoring in environmental science, expressed frustration with the way the police handled Everard’s disappearance.
“I think that they should have made it known that this was happening instead of telling women to stay at home,” Baker said. “Women are already being hypervigilant because as women, we know that these situations happen and sadly they probably happen more frequently than they should.”
Dorman expressed similar frustrations.
“I shouldn’t have to be afraid to walk home,” Dorman said. “I shouldn’t have to carry around pepper spray. I shouldn’t have to carry my keys between my fingers. It’s scary and it scares me that I can’t walk home at night. Every girl I know carries pepper spray around with them and every girl I know has thought about that scenario in their head where they may have to fight back against someone.”
Melisa Klimaszewski, director of the Women and Gender Studies Program at Drake, revealed the harm of police telling women in London to stay home and the danger behind naturalizing the experience which women endure.
“I think I really agree with the critiques that say that this response has been a problem because it has made women’s safety entirely the burden of the women,” Klimaszewski said. “That is doing nothing but reinforcing the norm of violent culture, of a culture that is violent against women, and it puts the responsibility on women as to putting the responsibility on the men who commit the acts of violence. It doesn’t emphasize the notion of freedom. If women are to live complete lives and if women are to live with complete freedom, women must be able to be outside at any hour of the night or day, by themselves.”
Carrie Dunham-LaGree, a professor at Drake University, brought up the events from Everard’s vigil, where police suppressed the women’s protest.
“I think they were trying to do the right thing,” Dunham-LaGree said. “But I don’t think they really were thinking about the reasons the women wanted to come and protest and have a vigil and honor that experience and so it was not intentionally terrible, but then it just escalated. There are ways to plan for safer vigils that I think should have been the goal because I think that’s really what made this story explode internationally. Just seeing the way that some of the women were treated at the protest was visually shocking, especially knowing that a police officer had been arrested for her murder.”
Dorman echoed these sentiments.
“I don’t think that they’ve handled it very well,” Dorman said. “I think honestly their response to the protests have been pretty hypocritical considering that these women are protesting feeling unsafe walking home and their protests have been met with responses that are exactly what women are afraid of. They’re attacking them and arresting them and tear gassing them and I don’t think that that’s right. I think that these women have every right to be outraged and I think that they should have the freedom to protest.”
Klimaszewski proposed how to move forward in putting an end to this oppression of women’s rights and safety.
“It’s crucial not to naturalize a lack of freedom for women,” Klimaszewski said. “So, when you talk about the long history you have to make sure you do it in a way that does not naturalize it, because there is nothing inevitable about violence against women.”
Konfrst also has suggestions for where to go from here.
“I think it’s a cycle so language perpetuates attitudes and attitudes perpetuate language,” Konfrst said. “I really think it means we need to have more women in leadership, more women in media, more women in government.”
Beyond Klimaszewski and Konfrst’s insights, Baker admitted that this is “a man and women problem,” therefore everyone needs to be “educated collectively.” She said that these types of situations enforce a stereotype which is damaging to men as well.
“I feel like sometimes guys who are sympathetic or empathetic of women, who don’t treat women like they’re disposable, are labelled and cast in a really negative and critical way,” Baker said.
Konfrst agreed with this notion of toxic masculinity.
“I think it implies that men can’t control themselves and that all men are murderers and when women are around, they just can’t help themselves,” Konfrst said. “That’s not true.”
Klimaszewski narrowed down all of the reactions and responses to Everard’s case into a succinct proposal for what must be done in order to ensure that women are advancing toward a future of equity and freedom.
“Challenge every person in every context who makes any excuse for women not being completely free,” Klimaszewski said.