Six months after Sarah Everard's murder, 50% of women still don't feel safe

Floral tributes and messages in honour of Sarah Everard, the missing woman who's remains were found in woodland in Kent, are displayed at the bandstand on Clapham Common in south London on March 17, 2021. - Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Wednesday Britain needed
Floral tributes to Sarah Everard at Clapham Common, close to where she was abducted in March. (AFP via Getty Images)

Six months have now passed since one of the most shocking crimes in recent memory.

Marketing executive Sarah Everard, 33, was walking home mid-evening through London streets last March. She had been to visit a friend, just as thousands of women do every evening.

Sarah was abducted and murdered by Wayne Couzens, a Metropolitan Police officer with the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection unit. He was arrested a week later. 

On 9 July, Couzens pleaded guilty to her murder at the Old Bailey after earlier admitting her rape and kidnap. He awaits sentencing. 

Vigils – controversially policed by the Met – were held in her memory, and the issue of women's safety on the streets loomed large for a few weeks, with calls for action and education.

The Home Office opened a public consultation on tackling violence against women and girls, which received more than 160,000 responses, alongside an unofficial wave of revelations on social media, demonstrating the abuse and intimidation felt by women on Britain's streets.

Watch: Wayne Couzens sacked from Met Police for Sarah Everard murder

Read more: 'Not all sharks': The words women want men to read to understand why they feel threatened

Yet new studies suggest that very little has been achieved, as women still feel deeply unsafe in public – and private – spaces.

Women's magazine Grazia's recent research suggests that 48% of women don't feel safe, despite 77% of both men and women feeling that the crime was a 'defining moment' in discussions around women's safety.

Meanwhile, 37% of the men surveyed said that over the past six months, they have considered or researched ways to make women feel safer on the streets.

Nevertheless, over that time, 48% of women have felt nervous about someone walking behind them, 29% have been worried about someone driving slowly past them, and over a quarter have received 'unwanted attention' from a male stranger.

Alarmingly, 23% have also felt frightened while at home alone and 21% have felt actively threatened while walking outside at night.

The study of 2000 people, also found that 21% of women had been approached by a man in public, despite never indicating that they wanted to engage. 

A further 17% have felt threatened on the street in broad daylight, while one in ten women have experienced sexist abuse from a stranger.

Half of all women in Britain don't feel safe out and about at night. (Getty Images, posed by models)
Half of all women in Britain don't feel safe out and about at night. (Getty Images, posed by models)

In terms of what has been achieved, it seems there's been more changes on an individual level than a systemic attempt to change the culture of intimidation and fear on British streets. 

The Grazia study found that since Everard's murder, three quarters of UK women are more aware of potential danger, with half sticking to only main roads after dark, 38% deliberately not looking at their phones to be alert to danger, and a third refusing to walk alone after nightfall.

Prime minister Boris Johnson said back in March: "Ultimately, we must drive out violence against women and girls and make every part of the criminal justice system work to better protect and defend them."

CARDIFF, WALES - MARCH 17: A woman holds her hand to her face after laying flowers at the base of a tree during a protest outside Cardiff Central Police Station on March 17, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. Legislation giving police greater power to crack down on protests has passed its second reading in the House of Commons with a majority of 96 votes, amid anger at the way officers broke up a vigil for Sarah Everard where women were handcuffed and arrested. Sarah Everard, 33, disappeared after walking home from a friend's house on March 3. Wayne Couzens, 48, has been charged with the 33-year-old's kidnap and murder. (Photo by Matthew Horwood/Getty Images)
Protests in Cardiff reflect vigils and marches across Britain in March 2021. (Getty Images)

But campaigners argued that the budget set aside for better street lighting and CCTV was too small, and suggestions for plain clothes officers in nightclubs were mocked. 

Dr Ellie Cosgrave, a lecturer in urban innovation and policy at University College London, told Radio 4: "You can't just shove a light in and hope that the public space will be better." 

She believes the best approach is a wider attempt to make cities safer and understand the social issues in specific areas by researching, speaking to residents and responding directly to concerns.

Read more: The worrying statistics that show declining trust in the police in the UK

A spokeswoman for the Reclaim these Streets organisation added, "Women won't be able to trust that they are safe until misogyny and racism are tackled at an institutional level within government, police and the criminal justice system."

We can only hope that the legacy of Everard's tragic death will be a safer world for women – and that it's not just down to us to make that happen. 

Sarah Everard: More than £500,000 raised in tribute go to women's grassroots charities

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