It’s been hard to concentrate this past week. Every time I refreshed my news feed I saw the picture of an attractive young woman, who disappeared whilst walking home through South London.
You knew what was going to come, much as you hoped it didn’t, and by the end of the week a man was in custody and a body had been found.
A planned vigil was declared unlawful, even with social distancing and masks. Covid is being used as an excuse to stop any protests, much as it was used to curtail Black Lives Matter last year.
Oh, did I mention that the man charged with her murder was a serving police officer?
A smaller vigil in Brighton (near me) was on and off and on and off; in the end the organisers were asking us instead to bring our placards and flowers whilst we were out for our daily government-sanctioned walk. Who can blame them? Fines of up to £10k have been handed out to people organising ‘illegal’ gatherings.
A lot of us opted to turn up around 6pm anyway. I felt an overwhelming need to be around other people who were similarly angry, rather than being indoors with my own grief.
Incidents like this are rare, they tell us.
Yes, abduction and murder by a stranger on the street is rare but harassment, unwanted touching, abuse and being followed are not.
Women have taken to social media to list all the various forms of harassment (and worse) that has happened to them during their lives, making very grim reading.
I’m not going to list the incidents from my life here like that, mainly because I don’t think I’d even remember them all.
One thing that sticks in my mind however is calling the police circa 1982, after an occasion where a man had followed me and tried to drag me into a derelict house, coincidently very close to where this recent abduction took place.
I had thought that the right thing to do was to report it, but a very tired copper in his mid fifties told me ‘well little lady (I am 5ft 7), if you insist in wandering the streets on your own then you should expect things like this to happen’. I had been walking home from work.
In the 1970s/80s incidents like this were frequently dealt with by advising women to stay in or ‘get yourself a man’. I still believe things have improved since then, but sometimes I do wonder.
As a young woman all I wanted was to be invisible to men. I wanted to go about my life without being hassled. I wanted to be able to chat to men without having to fight them off at the end of the night. I wanted to not have to spend an hour getting dressed for work because everything I wore would invite comments. I wanted to go to the gym without someone telling me how much he enjoyed watching my bum.
And I was so tired of it always being my fault: the way I wore my hair, the colour of my clothes, because I was ‘strolling’, because I smiled, because he bought me a drink.
‘The time to worry is when they don’t notice you’ people told me. Aged 61, that time has still not arrived. Believe me, I won’t be worrying.