In the aftermath of the news of Sarah Everard this week, how can men and boys be allies?
This blog post includes some reflections of the tragic death of Sarah Everard this week, and some practical ways men and boys can help women feel safer in public. I hope some of these suggestions can be used in PSHE or tutor group lessons this week, with age-appropriate classes, as a way of helping reduce some of the fear’s women and girls face when out alone.
It is hard to come to term with the news this week regarding the disappearance Sarah Everard, and what the news represents about women and girl’s safety in 2021. I am a Physical Education lecturer and researcher, currently focussing on research projects that explore girl’s experiences of PE and sporting activities, and I have recently specialised more closely on the experiences women and girls face with violence and harassment from men. I find it hard to still read article after article about how unsafe women and young girls feel about even a simple activity like exercising outside in a public park in England in recent years (see Clarke, 2015 for one example).
A recent Runner’s World survey of 1000 women said that over half of women had experienced harassment on a run (Thomas, 2020). This is a shocking statistic. What makes Sarah’s case particularly chilling is that she was merely walking to her home at 9.30 pm, using a route she walked daily. Furthermore, online discussions around her choices are dominated by significant numbers of people blaming Sarah for walking home in the dark and attributing this choice as a natural reason for her to go missing. Whilst we are waiting to hear exactly what happened, and may never know, the disgraceful victim-blaming of Sarah is everywhere and appears to send a message to women that it is the women who must change our behaviours in order to stay safe. Some have simply said that she should have ‘got a taxi’, failing to understand that many women do not even feel safe in taxis, or other forms of public transport, on their own.
If you are a man and reading this and wondering what you can do to make women feel safer, or you work closely with men or young boys, I have outlined a few practical ways men can help women feel safer in open spaces here:
1. On quieter streets, give as much space as possible. If it is possible to walk on the other side of the road, please do so. This is particularly important when there is no one else about. If you are walking towards a woman in the same situation, you can cross over when you see her so she knows you are not a threat. This can feel like a huge weight lifted to her;
2. If running, try and avoid running too closely, especially in the dark. It can be intimidating to hear panting close behind you;
3. If socialising with a woman, it is helpful to walk your female friends’ home, no matter how safe you perceive the route. If a female friend asks for you to accompany them on what you would normally consider a safe journey, avoid judging them or implying they are being dramatic;
4. If you witness low-key (or any key) harassment, call it out. Research has shown that some men ignore behaviour that they know can make women feel uncomfortable, but in doing this it can normalise this harmful behaviour
5. It is helpful to remember that it is sometimes not about actual risk, but perceived risk which can be frightening to a woman. Anything you can to do help lessen this, will often be appreciated.
Clark, S., 2015. Running into trouble: constructions of danger and risk in girls' access to outdoor space and physical activity. Sport, Education and Society, 20(8), pp.1012-1028.
Tomas, B., 2020. Women fear for safety as new exercise lockdown rules kick in. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/womens-sport/2020/11/05/women-fear-safety-new-exercise-lockdown-rules-kick/> [Accessed 10 March 2021].
Kate is an interdisciplinary scholar specialising in secondary school Physical Education teaching. She leads one on the undergraduate degrees within Carnegie School of Education and previously ran an MA programme. Kate has been awarded the title of Senior Fellow (HEA).