I could walk home from a friend’s house, but then a serving police officer might decide to stage a fake arrest, drive me 80 miles away, and murder me. I could stay home and bake mince pies, but then a neighbour in the flat above might knock on my door and take my life.
I could have a birthday picnic in a park with my sister, but then a man might stab us both to death. I could leave my home to meet someone on a first date, but then someone could kill me and dump my body in a local park. You get the general idea. These are the sad, familiar details of women whose lives have been ended by violent men.
Since the tragic murder of Sarah Everard last March, 80 women have been killed by men. It’s only September. We don’t even remember most of their names. They were older women walking their dogs or coming back from hospital appointments. They were young women going out on dates or having a casual picnic in the park. Women in their homes or outside them. Women with hopes and dreams, just living their lives… all gone.
Imagine the laws we would have passed if there had been 80 terror attacks since March. One man tried to set fire to his trainers on a flight and we’ve all had to take our shoes off at every airport in the world ever since, but women are hurt every single day and nothing changes.
Every woman I know has suffered some kind of serious harassment or sexual assault. Every woman I know clutches her keys in her hands to use as a weapon, tells her mates what she’s wearing or where she’s meeting a stranger. We get out of taxis because the driver is creepy and we don’t want him to know where we live. We go on dates and then wonder if the guy was a little strange and what exactly we should do about it.
It’s exhausting to live your life constantly wondering if the man walking close behind you is merely unthinking or is out to make you another statistic in this year’s crime figures.
Every single day, women are told how to avoid violent men by wearing the right clothes, not drinking too much, and taking all manner of other precautions. It makes everyone feel better to believe that women can just avoid bad things if they follow the rules, whatever the rules may be.
Yet the list of murdered women shows us that we can be killed while baking for Christmas at home, having a picnic in a park in bright sunshine, or walking down a well-lit street and stopping to talk to a police officer when requested.
I can already hear the chorus of “not all men”, and of course not all men would dream of being violent to women, but the problem is that there are so many men who would dream of it, and it’s impossible for us to know which of them we can trust. You say “not all men” and I say “too many men”.
Hundreds of thousands of women and girls experience sexual violence in the UK every single year, and conviction rates are dreadful because women have to constantly justify being in a public place, wearing their clothes, and enjoying a social life or even a sex life – as human beings do – before a jury will punish their attacker.
I’m so tired of lighting candles and laying flowers for murdered women. Something has to change. We can ban violent pornography, but I don’t hear our politicians talking about that. We can make misogyny a hate crime that is prosecuted in the same way we prosecute other hate crimes, but we don’t do it.
Women make up half the population of this country, and we have the right to be safe both inside our homes and outside them. This isn’t something that women can put right on their own. Our politicians need to step up and take action. Men need to step up and take action, because the numbers tell us that while it’s not all men, every man reading this will have a friend, relative or colleague who has sexually harassed or assaulted a woman.
We have to break this cycle or we will go on seeing the smiling faces of dead women on the news at night. As one Twitter user wrote: “Women aren’t safe in the street, in work or in their homes. Women aren’t even safe in the company of a serving police officer. Something has to change, and that something is not women.”
Julie Owen Moylan’s debut novel ‘That Green-Eyed Girl’ will be published by Penguin Michael Joseph in May 2022. It is currently available to pre-order