Sabina Nessa killing: Does following the 'rules' keep women safe?

Safety tips for women continue to suggest murderers have an excuse for killing.

9/24/2021 10:59:00 PM

'If a woman is murdered by a man she doesn't know, it is because he wanted to murder her. There is no other reason'

Safety tips for women continue to suggest murderers have an excuse for killing.

As Det Ch Supt Lawry says, of course women "should" be able to walk around free from fear. And of course the problem is with the men who murder them rather than the women wearing headphones. And of course women should not have to modify their behaviour in order to not be attacked or abducted or raped or killed.

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But "worrying about our safety is an integral part of our existence as women," said Kelly Grehan, a director of 50:50 Parliament, a cross-party campaign group promoting gender equality."It is drummed into us from a young age that our actions determine our safety: when we were only allowed to go in public toilets in pairs, given rape alarms at secondary school and told we were 'asking for it' or 'jailbait' when we tried to dress like the pop stars we idolised before some of us had even started menstruating."

The killings of Ms Nessa, Ms Everard, Ms Henry and Ms Smallman create an extra frisson of fear because their randomness indicates all women are at risk. If Ms Nessa arranged to meet her friend at a different bar or at a different time; if Ms Everard had left her friend's house 10 minutes earlier or later; if Ms Henry and Ms Smallman had chosen a different part of the park to have their picnic, it could have been different women facing the final few hours of their lives. It could be any woman - even if she had followed the rules.

Academic studies have examined the ways in which women and girls trade their freedom to feel safer. One ofthe largest studies conducted on sexual harassment in Europefound that almost half of the 42,000 women surveyed had restricted their freedom of movement based on the fear of gender-based violence.

Prof Liz Kelly, the director of the child and woman abuse studies unit at London Metropolitan University, coined the term "safety work", to describe the strategies women develop in response to their experiences in public. Often done without thinking, these precautions become ingrained as habit, or "common sense".

And we all do it. We all make sure we have a fully-charged phone and do that spikey weapon-grip with our door keys at the same time as checking nobody is following us inside. We text when we are "home safe" and wait up until we hear the same from our companions. This is normal. This is accepted. This is part of being a woman.

The tips offered by police and other organisations perpetuate the idea of safety work: take a longer route if it's busier and better lit; search for a Tube carriage with other women in; wear flat shoes for the walk home (in case you have to run).image caption

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Sarah Everard had been walking to her home in Brixton when she disappearedAs Prof Kelly says, the "necessity of safety work steals our time and our energy - being vigilant means it is seldom possible to just be in public space, to feel joy in exercise or notice the changing seasons".

After Sarah Everard went missing, Met Police commissionerCressida Dick tried to reassure women that incidences of abduction and murder were "incredibly rare".And it's true - women account for about a third of all murders and of those, only 13% are killed by a stranger. Most are victims of a partner or ex-partner. It is far more likely that we will be killed at home than in a park.

So it's a balancing act - women have to take the precautions society deems reasonable while also trying not to overreact to dangers we're told are uncommon enough to be negligible.Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, an assistant professor at Durham University, uses

the term "the right amount of panic"."This won't ever happen to you. Except if it does, because for some of us it will, it will be your fault for not being scared enough. Don't panic enough and it's your fault, but panic too much and you're hysterical."

image source,image captionBibaa Henry, 46, and 27-year-old Nicole Smallman were stabbed to death in a Wembley parkAnna Birley, a co-founder of campaign group Reclaim These Streets, said: "We often get told when the worst happens that the murder of a woman by a stranger in a public place is very rare and we are very safe.

"But the thing is, our lived experience of street harassment - cat-calling, a man exposing himself to us - tells us we're not safe, and murder is rarely the first crime someone commits."We shouldn't be looking to solutions that require women to change their behaviour.

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"Women should be able to walk five minutes across a park at any time of day or night without fear of violence."image source,Getty ImagesIn an ideal world, everyone would live their lives unmolested. It would be safe to amble down dark alleys or across parks, whether sporting a diamond-encrusted miniskirt and platinum noise-cancelling headphones or a sackcloth boiler suit and an air of high alert.

But until we get to that utopia, if it is even achievable, is the advice offered by police and various safety charities actually something that protects women? If we disregard the hugely problematic narrative of victim-blaming, are they pragmatic - if unpalatable - tips that would keep us safe from stranger danger?

The deaths of Ms Nessa, Ms Everard, Ms Henry and Ms Smallman would suggest not.They followed the "rules" and still got murdered. Ms Everard's killer wasn't put off by a brightly-lit busy road and plenty of CCTV cameras. The man who murdered Ms Henry and Ms Smallman was untroubled by the women not being alone and defenceless.

image source,Getty ImagesThe cases above are the high-profile ones. There will have been a strata of incidents in which women were attacked but not fatally. In which someone tried to pull or persuade them into a car but were shaken off. In which a man said something sexually aggressive that didn't lead to a physical assault but did leave the woman upset and frightened and angry.

Read more: BBC News (UK) »

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In other news a teenage girl has been convicted for conspiracy to murder a 13 year old boy. My gut instinct in this case is race. Sounds plausible but who knows Isn't that the case for any murder. Most women who are murdered though are murdered by those who they do know, most often by a former or current partner.

The media only give this level of coverage when the victim is young, pretty, female and generally from London. Ask the family of Julia James why her death wasn't as mourned as Sarah Everard

'When brown women like Sabina Nessa are slaughtered - most people don't care'Sabina Nessa's death could not have been treated more differently to that of Sarah Everard - where's the public outcry, asks Anila Baig Most likely because they adopted to the British way of life!? We have the same in Germany. Muslim women, who want to live free like German women, are living in danger.Recently two Afghan brothers killed their sister, because she was not living like the Koran demands. What absolute bollocks. We care just the same. reclaimTheStreets BorisJohnson metpoliceuk

Police insist streets are safe for women after Sabina Nessa murder🔴Detective Chief Superintendent Trevor Lawry said: 'the streets are safe for women – I'd like to reassure the public around that, I'd like to make sure that people are free to walk around free from fear'

Sabina Nessa killing: Does following the 'rules' keep women safe?'Worrying about our safety is an integral part of our existence as women' Does following the 'rules' keep women safe? Worrying about personal safety is a natural survival instinct no matter what gender you are. In the Victorian age it was fine to force feed suffragette. How many of the 14% not born in Britain come from cultures with medieval attitudes to women? and how many are indoctrinated with their fathers attitudes? In Rochdale they knew to groom naive white girls.

Sister of murdered Sabina Nessa breaks down as she addresses hundreds at vigilAn emotional vigil has been held for Sabina Nessa, a primary school teacher who was killed during what should have been a five-minute walk to a London bar Heartbreaking! RiP Sabeena Nessa Disgusting foul creep murdering an innocent young lady. What the hell is wrong with some people!😡 Why didn’t you go on about Lorraine cox as much *White lady murdered by an illegal

Sabina Nessa: Hundreds pay respects at London vigilThe vigil at Pegler Square is not far from where a wanted suspect was captured on CCTV.

Man held over Sabina Nessa murder is freed as community holds vigilPolice make fresh appeal over CCTV image