Women have spent this week terrified – that won’t end now Sarah’s killer is locked away

Women are altering their behaviour and restricting their lives just to feel safe

Yesterday evening at 5pm I took the five minute walk from my flat to the tube to get to the gym. It’s a walk I’ve taken numerous times. It’s well lit, on a busy main road and full of people. And yet I felt terrified. As I approached the station there was a group of men watching a young woman walk past them. I had that stomach-twisting feeling as I came near them and as I walked past they tried to strike up a conversation with me. I sped on, kept my head down and practically ran down the tube escalator. I spotted two women standing together and stood remarkably close to them despite a near-empty platform. Normally an incident like this would not even phase me. I’d ignore the men, carry on down the stairs at a leisurely pace and get back to texting my friend.

But it wasn’t just my walk that left me feeling on edge. My sister didn’t text me back for 12 hours. Suddenly my head was full of thoughts of an imaginary abduction. My flatmate wasn’t home when I came back from the gym. Had she been attacked? In reality they were both fine – my sister’s phone had broken and my flatmate had a spontaneous dinner with her dad.

These seemingly everyday occurrences I wouldn’t usually blink an eye at have got me afraid and imagining the worst. And with good reason. The last week has seen an incredible amount of pain for women in the UK following the death of primary school teacher Sabina Nessa and the sentencing of Sarah Everard’s murderer Wayne Couzens today.

The details of Sarah’s murder are now coming out and amongst the graphic details of her death, is the hauntingly scary detail that Couzens used his role as a police officer to “arrest” Sarah under the pretence of breaking Covid rules. Sarah was lead into what she thought was a police car and driven to her death. The truly scary thing is every woman I know would get into that car. We all would.

And now we are all scared, because it could have been us and so we’re changing our behaviour and routines. Turn to any woman you know and ask her how the last week has made her feel. I can guarantee she will be feeling a whole host of emotions – anxiety, horror, panic and deep sadness. She will also have either changed or thought about changing her behaviour. And for the first time this isn’t because we’ve been told to because of a police curfew or because the council handed out rape alarms. We would usually protest against our freedom being taken away, because it is men who should be the ones to change. But now we are actively checking our mates get home safe, altering our routes or simply not leaving the house out of fear.

The Tab spoke to a number of young women about how the last week has affected them. Many spoke of their uneasiness and are now actively making changes in order to carry out their daily lives in the most risk free manner possible.

The most prominent change seems to be making sure their friends get home safe. This was once something we said at the end of the night as we hugged goodbye. Now we stay awake, watching for the typing to ensure our friends made it in the front door. Lily, a student at Manchester, told The Tab: “I definitely really make my friends text me when they get home”. Hayley, a graduate, said she now worries when friends don’t text back: “I’ve been so conscious of ‘text me when you get home’ messages – I used to be really cool about it and not really check back on them but now if I tell my mates to text me when they’re back I really mean it and worry if they don’t.”

It’s more than just increased texting. Women are changing their routines and restricting their lives. Kate said she is currently feeling more scared and is subsequently drinking less when out so she can be more aware. Jenny, a student, said she now makes a point to book her activities and seminars earlier in the day, especially now daylight is getting shorter. It is a sad reality that as young women we are having to moderate our lives in order to get through the day.

Women are now spending more money to ensure their safety. Kirsty, a recent graduate, said she has now bought an alarm and Hayley has increased her Uber usage for a walk she would usually do everyday, but now feels uneasy about. She said: “The other day I had a 15 minute walk from the tube station to my flat and I got an Uber because it was getting slightly dark, I’m so tight I would usually walk to save that £5.”  But now with what feels like an increase in male violence against women, a £5 Uber is nothing when it comes to your life.

It may sound dramatic but this is the reality of so many women. It is not our responsibility to change our behaviour. We have done nothing wrong. And yet we live in fear. That fear will not end now that Wayne Couzens is being put away for life. Since Sarah Everard was killed, 80 women have been killed by men. We will never feel safe until male violence against women is taken seriously and changes in societal attitudes shift.

Related stories recommended by this writer:

‘I am so fearful’: Young women outside Old Bailey as Couzens given whole-life sentence

Anti-lockdown protestors hijack scenes outside Wayne Couzens’ sentencing

These are your rights if you’re stopped by a police officer