The deeply tragic story of Sarah Everard is one that has grabbed the attention and the hearts of many. Having watched it play out in news coverage, and seen responses to it fill our instagram feeds, we are filled with a wrenching sympathy; it comes as a reminder to women of just how unsafe we feel on the streets. I have felt all of this. But on top of this I have felt that there is a lot missing from the conversation being had. Recent news has instigated a wider conversation of women’s safety and sexual harassment. 97% of all young women in the UK have been sexually harassed. It is an issue that affects all young women, but news coverage would have you believe that this is an issue which concerns only those who fall into the categories of middle-class, cis, white, and able-bodied. The online discourse seems to negate intersectionality. There is little attention paid to the fact that if straight, cis, middle-class and able-bodied white women are at risk on our streets, that risk is even higher for those in the LGBTQ+ community, working class women, disabled women, and women of colour.
Watching a BBC news report, I recognised all of the places in Clapham that they featured. This is an area I know well; it is an area which is perhaps more white and more affluent than others in London’s inner city. It is also situated in Lambeth, the 9th most deprived London borough and one where the White British and Irish demographic makes up only 40% of its population. For this reason, I was uncomfortable seeing a news piece where 4 or 5 women were interviewed and not one of them was a woman of colour. While it is not possible to be certain, all of these women seemed to fall into the category of white middle class millenial women, a specific demographic but one familiar to anyone who frequents Clapham. The narrative on gender-based violence must include women from all backgrounds. All women can be victims of sexual harassment, and the conversation must be representative of this.
With that being said, the conversation must go further than this; women from marginalised backgrounds are often even more at risk of gender-based violence. This is why all conversations we have about sexual harassment and violence against women need to be intersectional. The risk of being victims of hate-crimes makes the streets even more unsafe for those who are not straight, cis, able-bodied white women. Members of the trans community are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, and the same is true for black and mixed-ethnicity women. Globally, disabled women are at a higher-risk of sexual violence than non-disabled women. Being a woman presents me with added risk in my day-to-day life, but it would be ignorant for me, as a cis, able-bodied white woman, to think that I am just as at risk as my more marginalised counterparts. This is why the conversation needs to focus on the voices of and consideration for all women, and people who are victims of gender-based violence, including members of the transgender and nonbinary communities. We cannot consider just one type of woman. The issue of violence against women is not a “white-feminist” issue, but currently the discourse around it is treating it as such.
I have recognised a horrible kind of irony in the shocked reactions of some white women, to the idea that a serving police officer could be the perpetrator of a violent crime against a woman. A few months ago, our instagram feeds were filled with the idea that marginalised communities are subjugated to systemic violence from the police and generally are less well-served by them. Now, we are seeing white women commenting on the idea that we are not even safe with police officers. Take a moment to think about how this must feel to women from marginalised communities, to women who have not grown up with the privilege of seeing the police as being there to protect them. Faith that the police are there to protect you is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone. Some would argue this is a small thing which has been overlooked in this case, but I believe it is hugely reflective of the larger issue in the discourse about violence against women. If white women choose to only see the issue through the lens of their lived experience, and this is the voice to which the media solely listens, we are only seeing and discussing a small section of what is such a great and complicated issue.
None of this is expressed with the intention to diminish the experiences of white women, nor to take away from the tragedy of Sarah Everard’s death. But as the conversation advances, about sexual harassment and violence against women, it is imperative that we include the experiences of people of marginalised identities, and that this forms a part of a wider discussion on gender-based violence.