By Dan Sutton
Whilst writing this piece I discovered a horrifying statistic: according to the Missing People charity one person goes missing every 90 seconds around the UK. Social media has enabled news to break faster than ever, but as we become inundated with content it becomes harder to keep track of stories.
But the disappearance of Sarah Everard was different. I was shocked by the news, but to nowhere near the extent of my partner or female friends. It was hard for me to watch my girlfriend become so upset and I started to question myself: why was I not feeling the same emotional response that she was?
I live in Clapham so the issue was close to home, but it still didn’t explain why this incident was seemingly more disturbing or should get more attention than anything that had happened previously. It took a while to realise that it wasn’t my emotional capacity I should be questioning, rather my understanding of the problem at hand.
Sarah was walking home from a friend’s house, not too late, and on a well-lit street by a main road – nothing about this would make me feel unsafe. And this was the crux of the issue I had yet to recognise. The emphasis was on women to take necessary precautions in order to feel safe, rather than on men to simply behave respectfully.
Many of us will have done a lot of reading, watching and learning around the topic, but for me there were two key actions that resonated more than any others.
Talk about the issue with your peers
I’m lucky that we have such an engaged group of people in our D&I Collective at work. There’s a constant stream of brilliant educational articles and webinars being shared, and I felt like I wanted to discuss the matter. I felt anxious to broach the subject, almost as if asking how I can make women feel safer at night made me guilty for not knowing in the first place! The honesty of the responses and simplicity of solutions was eye opening. Of course, adapting my behaviour, like making sure I allow space for women to pass me on the street, won’t suddenly fix gender inequality. However, if basic actions like that can make even one woman feel safer then it’s hardly a sacrifice for me to make. There is a plethora or information out there to read on how men can help, but to any man who believes that this doesn’t apply to him, I implore you to start the conversation with your own friends and colleagues. You might be surprised by what you learn and how easily you can make a difference.
Be an ally
Hearing stories from my friends on the countless times they have been harassed over the years really hit home. Had I previously noticed these situations, stood by and brushed them off? I didn’t see myself as someone who needed lessons on respecting women, but I quickly came to the realisation that it wasn’t just my own behaviour I can be accountable for. Yes, it’s not all men, but as the powerful #allmencan campaign has stated, we can all help in some way. It doesn’t take a lot to be an ally, but it can make a world of difference.
I walk my dog around Clapham Common every day and it’s only in the last week or so that the flowers have been removed. My girlfriend is concerned that Sarah and her legacy is already being forgotten, and who am I to argue? This isn’t a new issue. We’re fighting against generations of an oppressive patriarchy. I don’t feel like I am personally part of the issue, however to paraphrase a quote that has stuck with me in the last year: “If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” It’s time for men to speak through our actions and become the solution.