Call to ‘do more to tackle violence against women’ as Sarah Everard honoured

PA Reporters
·5-min read

Campaigners have called for more to be done to tackle violence against women as an online vigil was held in memory of Sarah Everard.

A minute’s silence was held and candles were lit during the virtual event, after planned vigils across the UK were cancelled due to coronavirus restrictions.

Despite the cancellation of an event in Clapham, south London, near to where Ms Everard disappeared, hundreds of people still gathered on Clapham Common at around 6pm on Saturday.

Opening the online event, hosted by Feminists of London, television presenter Sandi Toksvig said Ms Everard’s death should be a “turning point”.

“Tomorrow is Mother’s Day. Never have I felt more passionately concerned about my kids,” she said.

“It surely cannot be asking too much to want them simply to be free, to walk where they like, when they like.

“I am filled in equal measure with profound sorrow and rage, and I know there are many who share this rage and I think it is entirely justifiable. But I also know that it will harm rather than help us if we don’t try and direct that anger to good purpose.”

She added that it was not a “small change” that was needed, but a “cultural shift about how women are viewed and treated both in the public and private space”.

“This has to be a turning point where ending violence finally becomes a political priority,” she said.

POLICE Everard Timeline
(PA Graphics)

Mandu Reid, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, echoed these sentiments, adding: “The way to truly honour Sarah and every other woman we’ve lost is to demand that politicians of all stripes treat violence against women and girls as a political and policing priority.”

She said: “The pain and poignancy of this moment lies in the devastating fact that all women and every girl lives under the perpetual threat that what happened to Sarah could happen to any one of us.

“The reality for women and girls is that the harassment we experience, which is as omnipresent as the air we breathe, could escalate at any time.”

Reclaim These Streets, which had planned to hold the Clapham vigil before it was cancelled, also urged people to take part in a doorstep vigil at 9.30pm on Saturday, with the group saying it would be joining people across the country and “shining a light, a candle, a torch, a phone, to remember Sarah Everard and all the women affected by and lost to violence”.

They added: “We aren’t just lighting a candle for the women we’ve lost: we have been inspired by the women who have reached out and hope this is just the start of a movement that will light a fire for change.”

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People gather at the band stand in Clapham Common (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he would light a candle for Ms Everard with his fiancee Carrie Symonds, adding that he would be thinking of the 33-year-old’s family and friends.

“I cannot imagine how unbearable their pain and grief is. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime,” he said.

“I will do everything I can to make sure the streets are safe and ensure women and girls do not face harassment or abuse.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would also be lighting a candle, and added that almost 20,000 people had responded in 24 hours to a consultation on how the Government could tackle violence against women and girls.

“That is completely unprecedented & we will carefully consider responses,” she tweeted.

Floral tributes to Ms Everard have been laid at the bandstand in Clapham Common and the Duchess of Cambridge visited the make-shift memorial on Saturday to pay her respects.

Kate was seen pausing in front of the sea of flowers.

Meanwhile, a fundraiser set up by Reclaim These Streets for women’s charitable causes passed its target of £320,000 on Saturday evening.

On Friday, a High Court judge refused to intervene on behalf of the group in a legal challenge over the right to gather for a protest during coronavirus restrictions.

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Candles, messages and flowers left on the steps of the Parkinson Building at the University of Leeds (Danny LAwson/PA)

On Saturday, the group said that despite their attempts to work with police to ensure the Clapham vigil could proceed safely, they now felt it could not go ahead.

Organisers said they had made “many suggestions” to police, including splitting the event into different time slots – but that they were told going ahead with a vigil could risk a £10,000 fine each for each woman organising.

A number of police forces across the country also issued statements urging people not to attend the in-person events, instead encouraging people to move online.

A vigil planned for Ms Everard’s home city of York was cancelled and organisers urged people to post a photo of a candle in their window or doorway, while events in Coventry and Birmingham were also cancelled.

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The fundraising target of £320,000 by Reclaim These Streets was set to mirror the fines which might have been issued had the vigils gone ahead, with the aim to raise £10,000 for each of the 32 vigils which organisers said had been scheduled.

Caitlin Prowle, from Reclaim These Streets, said the group had not wanted to end up in a situation they were having to raise funds to pay fines, rather than for charitable causes.

She said the money would “just go straight back into a system” that “continues to fail” women.