In March 2021, the whole of the UK was shaken by the disappearance of Sarah Everard. Sarah, who resided in the Brixton Hill area of London, disappeared whilst walking home from a friends house. Sadly, it later transpired that she was murdered. A serving Met Police officer was charged with her kidnap and murder. The events prompted widespread protest and anger at the risks facing women every day. The debate quickly turned to what next; how should society change in order for women to feel- and be- safe. The discussion has not escaped us at Become The Voice. After discussing the harassment and abuse of women with some of the female members of the Become the Voice team (which you can find here) we felt it was important to host a conversation with some of the male members of the university in order to involve them in the conversation about what can be done to make women feel safer. Last week, Ben Sturt and Katy Cottrell spoke with two University of Exeter students, Tom Scrivener and Charles Cutland, about recent events and what should happen next.
Previously, our discussion centred on the behavioural changes men can make in public spaces, to create an environment that is less threatening to women. However, it is also important to consider the early interventions that can be made to reduce the levels of harassment and violence carried out against women.
First, the group considered the role of education, with Ben stating ‘’I’m a firm believer that education is a great intervention. I don’t think I can remember in any way being taught about consent and about boundaries and etiquette at all. Luckily, I was brought up in a decent home with loving parents, who, you know, made me aware explicitly how you treat people. If boundaries and etiquette was brought into the education system, into the curriculum, I think that’s a good idea’.
He added: ‘We’ve known about these issues for a long-time, men speak to your female friends, speak to your girlfriends, speak to your mothers. And then you realise, you know, we’ve known this for a long time…and so we’ve got to look at our behaviour and see how we can make adjustments to our lives straight away’.
This part of the conversation reminded me of my own experiences, and at a personal level how long it feels like we’ve been campaigning for these same issues with little progress. When I was 16 I wrote an article for my school paper about my experiences of being catcalled on a daily basis whilst walking to school. Five years on, and I am writing a similar article yet with the more tragic context of Sarah’s death.
Unfortunately, many men are not having these types of conversations about sexism and violence against women. Tom pointed out ‘I think there’s still a large portion of the population that don’t have these discussions, which is why I think what Ben said about education intervention is a fantastic idea. But the fact that these conversations aren’t being had…I think that’s a bigger issue because although we can sit here and say we know what’s wrong and we’ve always known what’s wrong, I don’t think it’s particularly salient in some other groups.’
In agreement, Charles suggested that because of these types of conversations, we might start to see improvements. ‘I don’t know the figures on this, but I would like to think that our generation now has a lot more of these conversations…because I think a large reason for the fact that a lot of this still happens is that people growing up 20 years ago, grew up in a very different society to what we’re living in now. I think that hopefully in the next 20 years we’ll see a decline based on the fact that our generation is having these conversations now compared to ones before us that didn’t’.
Keep an eye out on Become The Voice’s social media and website for the next article in this series.