All Men Are Responsible for the Culture that Allowed Sarah Everard's Murder | Opinion

It's time for all men, everywhere, to do more.

Like one in three women worldwide, I've been the victim of sexual assault and harassment. And so the tragedy of the kidnapping and murder of Sarah Everard in the UK wasn't surprising, nor was the trending Twitter hashtag men responded with: #NotallMen.

We all want to believe in good men. And because I live with a "good" man, while raising two (sometimes) good boys and a girl, I haven't talked much about my trauma relating to men. It's depressing, embarrassing old news, I've always thought. Instead, my battering has continued internally. When I run on a trail in a park, I feel nervous. When I walk alone at night, I take the dogs and look over my shoulder. I don't hug most men. And my husband, a 6'6" white male X-football player, doesn't always understand.

"Our neighborhood is safe," he says. "You're safe."

I try to believe him. But now we're preparing our 12-year-old daughter to face the world. And to do that, we must recognize the profound forces at play against all women. I feel I need to help my husband, who is often more of a feminist than I am, understand how "unsafety" feels and also how old news and the behavior of other men is tied to new news and today's men.

In truth, all of our stories are tied to one another. Threats to all women are connected and statistically real. One woman's abuse, especially if unreported or invalidated, makes another more likely. One man's consumption of porn, demeaning comments toward a woman, or distancing himself from statistics of his own gender, makes the next demeaning comment, the next rape more likely.

I need to explain to my two boys that violence against women requires a change not just in "bad" men but in the behaviors and media consumption of all men and boys.

According to an enormous study conducted by the American Psychological Association, media plays an enormous role in the sexualization of young girls. Another APA study reports how girls, especially Black girls, essentially live and perform within the stereotypes of inferiority we create for them.

And yet it seems in headlines this last week that the lack of safety women experience "in public spaces" is new news in London. Stranger still, men respond with hashtags like #NotAllMen to proclaim to the world that they aren't like those other men.

Don't we all want to think that? And though these men who post on social media hopefully aren't abusers themselves, distancing themselves from how the world abuses women is exactly the problem I want to address.

Sarah Everard's photo seen at London vigil
A photograph of Sarah Everard is left with tributes to her at the bandstand on Clapham Common on March 13, 2021 in London, United Kingdom. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Catcalls, crotch grabs, rapes, and murders are the things Londoners seems suddenly aware of due to the tragic, highly publicized murder of a white young woman Sarah Everard—as if these are not historical, documented threats. As if sexual violence and abuse hadn't been steadily increasing in London, which Black women overrepresented as victims. If men had recognized and become outraged over these realities before, would Ms. Everard have died?

As a person who volunteers and advocates for battered refugee women and has in the past volunteered with battered homeless women, I'm glad for any raised awareness. Yet how could a major metropolitan still have men distancing themselves with #NotallMen on social media?

Like most women, I've spent my life aware that I'm not safe walking alone in many public spaces, parking lots, alleys, in hallways where there aren't several people nearby to help me if I pass the wrong man. Heck, I don't feel safe in elevators, as this is where I was first assaulted as a teenager by a man who stuck his hands down his pants while telling me how warmly he felt about me. That was after he had walked into a tanning room where I lay alone in the dark. I'm not even safe with the people whom I'm supposed to trust, like health workers and bosses.

Why aren't more men freaked out about this?

Is it because men do not feel afraid themselves? Or worse, is it because they are content with women seeing themselves online and on billboards in underwear or less almost everywhere?

My husband says he wants women empowered in every way possible. And I believe him. But my husband also tells me that he needs to be reminded regularly of my experience. He needs to listen to my story because his worldview is entirely different from mine.

"Your fear of men isn't the same as your fear of driving up an icy cliff," he said yesterday, referring to my former car accident and the trauma it left on me. "You can stop the car now if things are dicey. But you can't control what men will do," he said. "And you shouldn't have to."

Tony Porter, author of Breaking Out of the "Man Box" says of "good" men, "We kind of see ourselves separate, but we're very much a part of it. You see, we have to come to understand that less value, property, and objectification is the foundation... and the violence can't happen without it.''

All men, not just policemen, not just bad men—must change. All men should listen to the real stories of women who have been harassed, abused, or worse. All men are responsible for the larger narrative of the culture in which they live and should reconsider how often they (perhaps unknowingly) contribute to violence against women with their silence, their habits, hashtags, language, relationships, and media consumption.

Amy Aves Challenger is a writer and artist completing a novel about an atypical boy and his mom growing in a world that wants everyone typical.

The views in this article are the writer's own.