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Opinion | The conversation surrounding women's safety must continue

Following the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard, a social media storm surrounding consent, sexual harassment and male accountability has been whipped up.

By Esia Forsyth, First Year, English

Following the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard, a social media storm surrounding consent, sexual harassment and male accountability has been whipped up.

We see this pattern of media frenzy surrounding a plethora of major world movements. Posts are shared across platforms, messages of solidarity, statistics and outrage whirl around the virtual globe as thousands of well-meaning individuals jump on the band wagon of justice.

Soon, however, we see this wagon begin to falter, begin to fall. Wheel by wheel, momentum is lost as life does its predictable thing, and gets in the way.

As is the case with all the other tragedies, however, Sarah deserves more. More than a short, sharp quote about injustice and more than a fleeting ‘like’ of support. The posts that we have seen so far have made one thing clear: women have been robbed of their right to feel safe.

We are faced with a culture in which harassment is accepted as an inevitable inconvenience, forcing women to take responsibility for their own safety. For women of all ages, when alone in darkness, there is one constant: wariness. The worry of having to make excuses, to run, hide, or scout the streets for potential aid.

But it is in daylight that casual intimidation becomes the threat, a blasé sense of entitlement to women’s bodies that results in whistles from moving vehicles and lewd comments across the street. Irrespective of whether these matters are written into law or not, these actions are saturated with injustice and therefore, a crime.

It is in daylight that casual intimidation becomes the threat

But it is not enough for victims alone to consider the events with such gravity. It is the onlookers, enablers and perpetrators that must have their eyes opened to the significance of compromising an individual’s safety.

This is what Sarah’s storm is beginning to achieve as it creates a space for reflection. Thousands of women are beginning to come to terms with some of the most damaging experiences they have gone through in life. Others are just now realising the sinister injustice of moments they dismissed as simply unpleasant.

Through this scope of collective support, powerful changes have begun. Though controversy grips every corner of the discussion, we have seen examples of men looking at their own behaviours and questioning their passivity in moments where they could have spoken or acted.

I hold faith that the movement will be no passing phase for Bristol’s inhabitants

These posts, though trivial to some, are creating a microcosm of honesty. An environment in which those who have faced trauma feel more comfortable to come forward with their stories. For those who have knowingly taken part in acts of harassment or assault, the space is one that becomes uncomfortable; a reminder that they cannot dismiss their actions.

A legacy of female constructed progress that has been evolving from centuries of struggle is being catalysed by Sarah. The awareness raised in recent weeks has placed the campaign for women’s safety on a platform that it had only ever aspired to reach.

In the community of Bristol, the invisibility of this virtual discussion has been translated into tangible action. We have seen a palpable energy in the air as individuals braved police fines to attend a beautiful, candlelit vigil for Sarah Everard. Men and women stood in small groups, silently supporting one another in their grief, anger and hope.

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As a city that prides itself of innovation, inclusivity and progression, I hold faith that the movement will be no passing phase for Bristol’s inhabitants. They have held resolve far longer than the online popularity of past campaigns and their protests have never been limited to cyber surges of support.

Perhaps here, hidden within the tapestry of Bristol’s cultural history, lies our answer. The response to online visibility within a physical community is what can really create long lasting difference. Though the media attention may fade, action has already begun.

Conversations are becoming reality. Men are joining the discussion, reflecting on injustices that they have allowed to slip by. Each discourse, each whisper; they build upon one another. Each time a man speaks out, or a woman shares, the wheels begin to turn and, once again, the momentum of this vital conversation picks up.

Featured Image: Epigram / Teddy Coward

Have you ever felt unsafe as a woman in Bristol?