I was 17 – but I remember the heart-pumping fear as if it were right now

A drawing in memory of Sarah Everard

A drawing in memory of Sarah Everard - Credit: PA

I’m 17 years old, waiting for a mid-morning bus to school to take an exam. It is a quiet country road and, with one exception, houses are some way away.  

A van pulls up on the other side of the road. Offer a lift. No, obviously. He drives off and thirty yards further on stops, reverses and starts back on my side.  

I do not think this is good. If I run I may or may not reach the bend in the road where the village starts. If I try the one house nearby and there’s no one in – a man lives there alone – I’m in trouble.  

I run across the road, in front of the approaching van to double back to the one possibility of safety. The driver stops past me and reverses for a second time, back to my side and level.  

I hammer the door, and amazingly, it opens. The driver speeds off and it is over. Life went on. 

Placards held aloft in Whitehall calling for change

Placards held aloft in Whitehall calling for change - Credit: PA

Yet decades later I remember the heart-pumping fear as if it were happening now. When women march to reclaim the night, the fact is we have to reclaim the day as well.  

And so it goes. Almost every woman has her story. And because we are all unique, we can’t be told how those stories affect us.  

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Some women change their behaviour at night time. Others avoid public transport. 

For others it may be the leering and sexual comments that affect them most when passing a crowd of men with a drink or two in them (“Can’t you take a joke?”).  

People mourning Sarah in Clapham Common

People mourning Sarah in Clapham Common - Credit: PA

Domestic abuse, physical and emotional, means even home is not a place of safety.  

Misogyny takes many forms – young women are criticised as sexual beings (“too available” or “not available enough”), older women face the double whammy of ageism and sexism, and every single aspect of this is turbocharged by social media.  

Many men are allies in this, of course – and many men suffer violence at the hands of other men, too, but we need more. 

Sarah Everard, 33

Sarah Everard, 33 - Credit: Met Police

The death of Sarah Everard has been another moment of crystallisation, as the #metoo revelations were.  

Yet since her disappearance six women have been reported killed by men. Women want change.

Changes in the law but also proper enforcement. Investment in prevention and education as well as criminal justice.  

Rape prosecutions are at the lowest level ever. Domestic violence support services have shrivelled over a decade.  

Fundamental inequalities underpin all this, and are compounded as so often for poorer women, Black and minority ethnic women, women with disabilities.  

Changes in the law, but also a change in attitudes, a resetting of the way we live together and treat each other. Women want change, but we could all benefit from that. 

  • Karen Buck is MP for Westminster North.

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