The discovery of suspected human remains during a police search for missing Londoner Sarah Everard has sparked heated debate around street safety
By Lin Taylor
LONDON, March 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The discovery of suspected human remains by police searching for a missing 33-year-old London woman has triggered an outpouring on social media about violence against women, amid record low rape convictions in Britain.
Women shared details about what they do to feel safe when out alone at night, including pretending to phone someone and crossing the street to avoid groups of men. Others recounted decades of public harassment by men since they were schoolgirls.
"I was attacked on the street by a man when I was at medical school," Julia Grace Patterson posted on Twitter, adding that she needed emergency treatment for her facial injuries.
"I was then stalked by the police officer who'd taken my evidence," Patterson, now a doctor, added.
The case has prompted Britain's most senior police officer Cressida Dick to reassure women it is safe to walk the streets at night, after one of her officers was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and murdering Sarah Everard.
Everard was last seen at 9:30 p.m. on March 3 walking home from a friend's house in south London.
Only 1.5% of 57,516 rape cases recorded in England and Wales led to a charge in the year up to September 2020, official data showed last month, with 42% of cases failing due to evidential difficulties, such as victims not supporting further action.
Rape prosecutions hit a record low in 2019/20 of 2,102, down about 30% year on year, while convictions fell by 25% to 1,439, according to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Amid warnings the system is failing survivors, the CPS has set out a five-year blueprint to ensure sex offenders are brought to justice, including improving communications with victims and working with police to strengthen cases.
The hashtags #saraheverard and #TooManyMen trended online as women relayed their experiences, prompting men to ask what they should do differently, such as not walking closely behind a woman on her own.
"Every single woman I know is overwhelmed by the Sarah Everard story. It's the thing they teach us to be afraid of from childhood. It's proof that we're not afraid for no reason," freelance writer Rebecca Reid said on Twitter.
Many also spoke out against blaming Everard or others for walking alone at night, after women in south London were advised to stay indoors during the investigation.
Police in the eastern county of Suffolk came under fire in 2019 for giving women advice such as "being drunk makes you vulnerable" and "stay with friends" to avoid assault over the Christmas period.
"I'm sick and tired of the way women are treated by the police/legal system. We are always told to change our behaviour, how about stopping male violence?" said Tabitha Morton, a deputy leader at the Women's Equality Party, on social media.
Nearly one in three women worldwide is subjected to physical or sexual violence during her lifetime, pervasive criminal behaviour that has increased during the pandemic, the World Health Organization said this week.
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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