Women in south London share their experiences following death of Sarah Everard

Kirsty O'Connor, PA
·14-min read

Following the death of Sarah Everard, who disappeared in south London, many women in nearby areas have spoken out about being harassed and feeling unsafe.

A few of them shared their experiences with the PA news agency.

– Annie, 24, Brixton, student

Annie (left), 24, and Danielle, 25
Annie (left), 24, and Danielle, 25 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“I was groped in broad daylight on a busy street having just left a work drinks celebrating my recent promotion. I had only just left the pub and was about a street away walking to the Tube, when a man shoved me into a wall and assaulted me.

“I was so scared and embarrassed, and I’m mortified that I didn’t fight back. I just couldn’t believe how quickly I went from feeling like a confident, successful woman to violated, weak, little girl. Again, this was in broad daylight on a busy street.

“I still can’t get over how many people saw the incident take place, yet didn’t intervene. Even after I’d pushed the man away, no-one came to check if I was OK.

“Allyship – particularly male allyship – is so important.

“It might not have prevented what happened on that day, but it would have made me feel less powerless and invisible knowing that I wasn’t totally alone on that busy street.”

– Ella, 26, Clapham, nurse

Ella, 26
Ella, 26 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Whether it’s a beep of a horn, noticing the turn of a head once you’ve walked past or an unwanted comment, I, and so many women, live with this every single day.

“In broad daylight, a car drove past me and I saw the driver turn his head back and beep but I pretended to not have heard – walking with my headphones in but no music playing as I often do.

“As I walked further up the road, the car had stopped and he tried to talk to me as I walked past.

“I politely said ‘please don’t talk to me’.

“He got out of his car and followed me down my own road to ask who I was and what I was doing.

“I stopped and entertained conversation, wondering how to close it off.

“Before long he had asked for my phone number and I felt so worried for my safety about giving a fake number because he would call it there and then.

“He did.

“When he realised it wasn’t correct he was aggressive and abusive.

“I couldn’t go home because I knew he was on my road for fear of him watching me so I crossed the road and walked the other way before turning back to go home.

“The tragic story of Sarah has triggered my feelings from that day and left me questioning why I shrugged it off initially.

“It wasn’t OK.

“I prepare every day, particularly when going out at night, which route to take, shortcuts to avoid and the points where comments may be made which happens regularly where Clapham meets Brixton on Ferndale Road.

“My best friends, my parents and my housemates are all able to track me on Find Friends and I’ve sent countless ‘I’m home’ messages.

“I’ve even been told I’m lazy by male friends for getting an Uber from Vauxhall to Clapham which clearly shows the difference in male and female attitudes to walking around in the dark.

“It is not all men but it is enough men for girls to feel unsafe, therefore we need to call out and prosecute those who do not treat women right and educate others on how to avoid making women feel unsafe.”

Emeline, 42, Clapham, creative director

Emeline, 42
Emeline, 42 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“In a time where we should be in our most progressive, we’ve regressed to our most misogynistic.

“I explained to a dear wise male friend of mine, that as women, we’re vulnerable all the time.

“To see the penny drop on his face, as his belief of me being a strong woman, he’d never even considered that might be the case. And I think that’s the problem, men cannot have empathy, they’ve never lived it, but we’ve lived this our whole lives.

“There’s no ‘men bashing’ in my words, only to request this be an opportunity for understanding, otherwise it’s just kind of like the Handmaid’s Tale.”

– Danielle, 25, Brixton, marketing executive

“I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Sarah and I know that many women are feeling the same – connected by this deep sense of hurt, anger and fear.

“I’ve been really moved hearing my friends and other women’s experiences of sexual harassment and assault this week and they’ve forced me to re-evaluate the everyday so-called ‘safety-tools’ that have been ingrained in us from childhood – the sharing of live locations, the ‘text me when you get home’ messages, the real (and fake) phone calls.

“It’s been heartening to see men offering support on social media so far, but I still can’t help but think – will we ever be able to stop living in fear?”

– Maddy, 25, Clapham, deputy editor

Maddy, 25
Maddy, 25 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“It’s hard to articulate the fear that women live with on a daily basis.

“It’s everything from cat calls and cars slowing down when you’re out for a run to men telling you to smile on the street and then becoming aggressive when you don’t.

“For the people who say you shouldn’t be on your own, I’ve been stood with a male friend while the boys behind me in a queue discuss what they’d like to do to me.

“I’ve had a man follow me through the streets of Brixton early in the morning demanding I speak to him, only stopping when I loudly started talking on the phone.

“This doesn’t cover the countless times I’ve changed Tube carriage, lengthened my journey home to make it ‘safer’ or had headphones in with no music playing so I could hear what was going on around me.

“It’s drummed into you from a young age to always be alert, be prepared to protect yourself and never look like you’re lost or vulnerable, and unfortunately we all learn far too quickly why that is.”

– Ellen, 28, Clapham, alliances manager

Ellen, 28
Ellen, 28 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“I can’t remember the last time I walked somewhere alone without feeling scared, I am on high alert every single moment of my journey, one headphone out, phone in hand, looking behind me every minute.

“This is a result of horrible personal experiences and being told by my friends and family that these are the things that will help keep me safe.

“It’s exhausting.”

– Jess, 27, Clapham, barista

Jess, 27
Jess, 27 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“A few years ago I fell asleep on the night Tube.

“I woke up with a man on top of me trying to kiss me and get under my coat. I froze.

“There was a man across from where I was sat playing on his phone.

“Apparently this interaction looked totally normal to him, even though I was slumped across the seat clearly inebriated and the man was twice my age, as he barely looked up from his phone.

“I got off the Tube and reported the incident to TFL a few days later. Two weeks later, I saw there had been four more reports of sexual assault at that station.”

– Eliza, 25, Clapham, director of marketing

Eliza, 25
Eliza, 25 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

WhatsApp messages sent between me and my female friends:

“Help. Will share location.”

“Ring me help. Help”

“This is the guys address, just in case”

“Make sure u send me your location if you leave that bar. Just in case he’s a murderer. He won’t be but just in case.”

“A man’s following me down the street shouting at me.”

“I can’t leave them here because they’ll get raped”

“A colleague just told me I look sexy and that this dress will get ‘appreciative glances in the office’ because it shows me as ‘all the woman I am’. Is that sexual harassment?”

“Omg I was just on the Tube and these four guys got on and sat around me and one of them read my book aloud for ten minutes, then tried to close it while I was reading to see the cover, then put his head on my shoulder, and I don’t think they were even drunk. It was horrible. I just want to cry.”

“This f****** creep is literally STARING at me on the Tube.”

“erm bloke on the train platform just asked if I want to go to his house and he’ll give me drugs in return lol”

“Walk down the river? Mmmkay don’t get murdered”

“Pls let me know when you’re home safe x”

“Let me know when you get home safe.”

“Did you get home safe???”

“can you just let us know if you’re alive”

“Funny how literally harmless DMs can make you feel unsafe”

– Aderonke, 25, Brixton, editor

Aderonke, 25
Aderonke, 25 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Whilst we may be conditioned to normalise the constant threat of male violence and to develop instinctive protective measures against it, the impact of regularly feeling unsafe is distressing, sad and infuriating.

“I hate that I have to make fake (and sometimes real) phone calls to family or friends when walking alone at night. I hate that my day can be completely derailed by a man feeling he can stare at me whilst touching himself on the Tube.

“It’s also important to remember how the threat of male violence is further heightened for women of colour, disabled women, trans women and queer folks.

“The solution to all of this begins and ends with men.”

– Olivia, 20, Stockwell, waitress

Olivia, 20
Olivia, 20 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“I have dealt with harassment from men on the streets, harassment from men I have worked with, harassment on the Tubes, buses and taxis all of my life and I’m only 20.

“It’s never ending for us and I’m so tired of it, we all are.

“In 2019 I was assaulted three times in the space of four months.

“The first on a Tinder date, the second in a bar by a friend’s friend and the third time at work by a colleague.

“On the blind date he trapped me in a booth and wouldn’t even let me go to the toilet.

“He was forcing himself on me and groping me. I had to ask a member of staff to help me leave.

“I’m now scared to go on blind dates or meet new men because I fear it will happen again and I won’t be able to get myself out of the situation.

“A month later I was in a bar and I was with my friend. His friends were there and he introduced me to them.

“One of his male friends took a liking to me and wouldn’t leave me alone. He kept forcing himself on me, trying to kiss me and make me touch him.

“I was making it very clear how uncomfortable I was. My friend, he saw how uncomfortable I was and said and did nothing to help me.

“A month later I was alone at work with my male colleague. He took the opportunity to inappropriately touch me in an empty restaurant.

“He would frequently make disturbing comments that made me feel constantly on edge. He wasn’t satisfied with just looking so he took it upon him self to touch me.

“Women everywhere are angry, as we should be. Men are attacking us, assaulting us and killing us for standing up for ourselves.

“Women are being taught how to stop themselves from being attacked when the responsibility to stop this should fall to men. Call out your friends, your dads, your brothers and your uncles.

“We know it’s not all men, but it’s enough men. We don’t know who is going to quietly walk past us in the street or scream abuse in our faces.

“Not all men, but all women.”

– Emma, 25, Battersea, writer

Emma, 25
Emma, 25 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“It first hit me when I was 16, and my dad gave me a rape alarms to take to V Festival.

“Since then, it’s been a lot of getting off the bus early when things just don’t feel right, fake phone calls, changing Tube carriages to escape predatory conversations, sharing my location with friends as I make my way home, and the obligatory ‘I’m home’ text.

“It’s making decisions on what to wear based on what attention it might provoke, and it’s running to my front door, slamming it and breathing a sigh of relief when I make it home.

“Just yesterday I was approached by a man at Waterloo station, and had to scurry away, checking I wasn’t being followed on to the train.

“There’s no time to switch off, we have to be always on, and sometimes that isn’t even enough.”

– Becky, 23, Wandsworth, sales executive

Becky, 23
Becky, 23 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Once while visiting friends in Spain, my friend and I went on a boat trip and on the return we noticed these two men staring at us.

“We made it clear we weren’t interested but this didn’t stop them.

“Once we left the boat, we started to walk home and realised the men were following us.

“We tried to lose them first by hiding in some public toilets but when we came out they were waiting by the entrance.

“We carried on walking, speeding up but every time we turned around they would still be a few steps behind us.

“Unsure of who or where to go to, we felt completely helpless even in such a busy area in broad daylight. We eventually managed to lose them by winding round a market.

“Another time with the same friend we were sat outside a cafe and a man was lingering around our table.

“We asked to move inside but he stayed outside staring in at us.

“Thankfully, someone called the police and it was dealt with.

“We were later told that the man had been touching himself whilst watching us from afar and he was also being charged for other assaults.

“I feel lucky that these instances never became physical for myself and my friend but these things shake you up.

“In both cases we spent the rest of our days hyper aware of everyone around us, constantly checking if we were being watched or followed.

“Women shouldn’t have to live in fear of this happening.

“Something needs to change here – speak to your boys.”

Cecilia, 25, marketing. Julz, 25, finance. Susie, 26, policy advisor, Stockwell.

(left to right) Cecilia, 25, Julz, 25, and Susie, 26
(left to right) Cecilia, 25, Julz, 25, and Susie, 26 (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

“Assaulted. Belittled. Cat-called. Degraded. Eyed-up. Followed. Groped.

“We’ve all had unwanted experiences. Aged 15, in school uniform, one of us got off the bus on our way home, the same as every day.

“A man stopped to ask for directions which we happily gave and we started to walk home.

“Following the usual route, down a busy road then turning left down some quieter streets, we heard fast footsteps behind, someone catching up.

“Glancing behind, it was the same man from the bus stop. We picked up our pace, as did he, getting closer.

“You could now hear his voice, he was asking questions, asking for our name. Heart racing, hands shaking, we walked faster, turning down our road, picking up the speed to a jog.

“The questions continued and his pace picked up too. Sprinting up the driveway to the front door you could feel his presence still there.

“We ran upstairs and looked out the window, he was still there, standing behind the gate.

“Even once physically safe at home in bed you’re still shaking, questioning what you had done wrong to get this unwanted attention.”