On March 3, just outside of London, Sarah Everard went missing while walking home from a friend’s house. After a week of an extensive missing persons search, Met Police confirmed the finding of “human remains” in a nearby location from where Everard was last seen.
Everard’s disappearance has since struck a chord with women worldwide, as the precautions she took to ensure her safety was something many women can relate to. In light of Sarah Everard’s disappearance, a new survey done by UN Women UK revealed that 97% of women have admitted to being sexually harassed in the UK alone.
Men have since been asking what they can do to help women feel safer both at night and in public settings. Here are a few things women want men to know.
Women are always doing everything they can to protect themselves, wherever they are in any setting. At the end of the day, however, the precautions women are taking don’t stop men from assaulting, harassing, or raping women. Common statements that come from men such as, “It was the way she was dressed,” or “She should know how to defend herself,” need to stop being normalized among men in order to change male behavior. These comments are victim-blaming.
Men have responded to comments regarding male behavior with the statement, “Not all men..” and while it is true that not all men harm women, it is still because of all men that women feel unsafe. It it time for men to actively work to protect women, too.
How can men help women feel safer?
Keep your distance.
For women, a male presence when she is not expecting it, especially at night, is often intimidating. When walking behind a girl, keep your distance. The closer you are, the more intimidating it feels for her. Try crossing the street, or walking a few feet behind or ahead of her. The more space you create between yourself and her, the less nervous she will feel.
Alert your presence.
When women suddenly discover that a man is near them and they’re not prepared for it, it can be off-putting and scary. If you notice the area you’re both in is quiet, try clearing your throat or shifting around. Don’t touch her or call out to her. Just let her know you’re there.
Make yourself visible.
Dark, hooded figures, especially at night can often be a warning sign for women. Try to show your face in any way you can, just to let her know that you’re not being a threat to her. This doesn’t mean stare at her. It just means don’t make yourself look suspicious. Looking normal and minding your business is enough to let her know you aren’t going to be a threat to her.
Offer to protect the women in your life.
The simple offer of walking your female friend home from a party or giving her a ride back to her place just might save her life. If you have friends who are women that you often see in public settings, just know that, no matter the location, she will always be worried about getting home safely. Having a male friend she knows can accompany her helps to relieve a lot of anxiety.
Stand up for her.
It is not difficult to recognize when a woman is being harassed, especially on the streets. There are ways to help her. Doing nothing will hurt her more. This goes for women you know and women you don’t. Standing up for her can mean inserting yourself in between an altercation or simply standing in front of her to block the harasser’s view. Ask if she’s okay and stay with her till she feels safe.
Call out your male friends.
Derogatory male behavior such as catcalling and their peers cheering them on for it, is often what leads men to believe it’s okay to hurt women. Jokes about rape culture and comments regarding the number of women you can get and how you can get her are toxic for women. Tell your friends when they’re victim-blaming and normalize calling them out for their behavior. Help them do better.
Listen to women.
When a woman tells you, “No,” it means no. It doesn’t mean convince her or get her to say yes. When a woman expresses feelings of unease or worry in public settings and asks you for help, don’t tell her she’s overreacting. Just listen to her and keep in mind, that as a man, you have a power of protection that she doesn’t. If she asks you for help or support, give it. You might save her life.
Teach each other.
For too long, it has always been about what a girl should do right. Don’t wear short skirts. Don’t have headphones in. It’s time for boys and men to learn they shouldn’t behave in ways where women need to do this in the first place. Have conversations where women aren’t present among brothers, sons, and friends to talk about how you can protect your mothers, sisters, and daughters.