It’s been a little over a year since I’ve been running This Violence is not a Tragedy. Many things have happened in that time. Many developments have been made. But in quite a few ways, things are exactly the same.
This can’t be cause for depression. I believe that we have to be honest about the world in which we live. We must acknowledge that we have not made the progress on gender-based violence that we probably all would like to have made. But no one ever said that there was a quick or linear solution to the violence and ills women face. The fight against gender-based violence is never going to be easy – it is, to use a cliche, more of a marathon than a sprint.
People may question why this has to be the case. It is obvious that women should not be discriminated against, and that we shouldn’t perpetrate violence against our fellow human beings. These simple maxims, to many people’s minds, ought to act as guiding principles. In fairness, these are the maxims we usually invoke every time a particular violent incident hits headlines. We talk about the irrationality of the perpetrator and how simply, obviously wrong their actions were.
While it is right to refer to morals and principles in an attempt to combat VAW, this won’t necessarily always work. All crime and violence often has a moral counter-argument – and that argument may be easily accepted by the perpetrator. Overriding the rationality of the moral argument is often a multitude of factors centred around social conditioning and a sense of how far the boundaries of acceptability can be tested.
What do I mean by this? Well, it is easy for us as a society to collectively say that violence against women is wrong. But this is not the example we always set as a society. After the murder of Sarah Everard, the past year has unearthed shocking revelations about police forces across the country. With so many serving police officers accused of sexual assault and with Everard’s police officer murderer himself having been linked to a previous but un-investigated case of indecent exposure, it is very clear to see that outward morality can be directly in conflict with realities on the ground.
While a society may say and do one thing the surface, its inner workings can reveal far more about what that society is actually like. We have rightly all noted that many of the UK’s police forces are failing women when it comes to protecting them from harm. But what we must also acknowledge is that these failures stem from a place where the discriminatory treatment of women is so accepted and normalised that it permeates all our institutions. Institutional sexism is very much a thing.
But it’s a thing we don’t like to admit.
We can see that from many of the responses to Sarah Everard’s murder – and in particular the responses to the revelations of how her murderer used his police identity to trick her. Suddenly, the onus was placed on women for what they ought to do to avoid being attacked by a police officer. North Yorkshire Police Commissioner Philip Allot declared that in order to avoid future situations like this, women should learn to be more ‘streetwise’ about when they can and can’t be arrested. Police issued a statement saying that women who found themselves stopped by a lone plainclothes police officer should ‘flag down a passing bus’ in order to increase their security.
These comments are damning – but we can look at the outcry that met them and see some positives. People readily recognise victim-blaming now – and public silence when it comes to issues like this is rare. While our institutions may perpetuate a lot of sexism, it seems there are plenty of challengers to those attitudes in wider UK society.
That is something we must take hope from. Hope is hugely important as we approach the future. It is hope that has allowed brave campaigners to fight for what is right in the past – and it will allow them to do so again in the future. We must all have hope – and we must all do what is right.
We all have a role to play – whether that’s calling out problematic attitudes or even actively helping victims and survivors of abuse. It will take collective action to change the status quo. And I hope we’re all prepared to do just that.