Years ago, when a man I’d been involved with, stalked me and my then-teenage daughters feared what might happen if he ever caught me walking alone at night, we took a self-protection course together.
“You can’t control what others will do but you can ‘safety harden’ yourself and your perimeter so that you have some control of what you do if the worst happens,” the former police sergeant teaching the course told us.
Safety hardening our perimeter included cutting down bushes around the house where someone might hide. Putting motion detector lights all around the house. Installing an alarm system and meeting with the watch command at our community police station so they would know if one of us called, they needed to respond. Right now.
One day I mentioned to the instructor how ridiculous I felt when I left the house, got into my car and immediately locked the doors. It feels so weak, I told him. Like I’m living in fear.
He told me it was just good practice. You live in the inner city of a large city. There are bad people all around. You need to protect yourself.
At the time, I didn’t question his advice. It was true. The man stalking me had already once jumped out of the bushes and tried to stop me as I took a shortcut to a girlfriend’s house.
I knew he was right. But still, the idea that I had to do the work to stop him from attacking me, grated.
It’s like when we ask/wonder, when a woman is murdered by a partner who had a history of violence, “Why didn’t she leave?”
Given that a reported 19,000 women and children are turned away from shelters every night in Candaa, shouldn’t we be asking, “Where will she go?”
And, “Why does he think it’s his right to beat her?” “Why does he believe he has the right to take her life?” “Why does he think violence against women is acceptable?” “Why do we blame the victim?”
On Tuesday, 8 women were tragically murdered by one man in Atlanta. He has a sex addiction he told police. He thought killing those women would help him.
And while this tragedy also puts a spotlight on anti Asian-racism, it is also a story not told about violence against sex-workers. Sex workers experience violence in the workplace at significantly higher levels than others. One review of systemic violence against sex workers states that often police don’t register these offences because of the circumstances under which the violence occurred and the workers don’t report them because of historical abuse by police. This means, on a global basis, there is little research on the issue, and thus, few demands that something be done to protect sex workers.
On March 3rd of this year, in London, England, a 33-year old woman disappeared while walking home. Her remains were recently discovered in woods 50 kilometres from where she had been walking. A police officer is arrested and charged with murder. A spotlight shines on stranger violence against women. Demonstrations follow. More arrests. Calls for investigations of police use of force. Sarah Everard has become the spark that ignited a public outcry against stranger violence against women. She was young. blond and white.
Hers is a story about violence against women that has rallied the voices of millions of women to stand up and demand “We take back the night”. It is also a story about the untold stories of millions of women worldwide whose stories never inspired a mass outpouring of demands the violence stop. Their stories did not make headlines. They did not fit into the paradigm of what we see as unacceptable violence against women because, most often, their skin was not white or they were engaged in high-risk activities that put them in the line of being targeted by male perpetrators of violence. Like the sex-trade.
Few (I would hope all) would disagree. Gender violence is unacceptable.
Our silence is also unacceptable.
Violence against women and non-binary individuals, no matter race or occupation or the relationship between perpetrator and victim is more than just a story of violence. It is a story about our mores and values. Our humanity.
Focussing on just high-profile cases diminishes the lives of those who historically have never had a voice nor the opportunity, and often right, to defend themselves. To stand up for themselves. To have their stories known.
We are contributing to the belief, some lives matter more than others.
Black lives matter.
Asian lives matter.
Indigenous lives matter.
Every life cut short by violence matters.
Let’s start hearing all the stories that matter so that together, we can create a world where no one fears dying beneath violent hands.
Because, I still wonder, years later, when I asked for police support at my local police station when I feared the man who was stalking me, were they so attentive because there was an inherent yet silent bias at play that none of us saw? Because I presented as an attractive woman with white skin, an impressive title on my business card and no history of interactions with the law, were they predisposed to believe me and come to my aid the night I did call? Because they did come that night. Fast. I wonder how it might have been different if I looked different?