This week we’ve been shocked by the horrific murder of Sarah Everard. In the same way that the killing of George Floyd provoked a public conversation as well as outpouring of emotion and demonstrations on the streets to say that #BlackLivesMatter so too we are seeing a similar response here as women talk openly about their experiences. This includes the description of fear walking alone at night, looking over your shoulder, calling someone and asking them to talk with you etc.
Two things have stood out in my memory during the past year, first hearing from women about their experience of going out for exercise during lockdown. This included having men in cars and vans sounding the horn, slowing down alongside them, catcalling etc. Imagine how terrifying it would be for a young woman or girl to have a van slow down alongside them.
Then, the other week taking permitted exercise with a friend through a local park, we walked past a few teenagers. As we went past, one of them said “I think we should tell them.” They came up to us and explained that a man had started to follow one of the girls round the park and she was frightened. She said that she was going to go home, it was just across the street. We asked if she was okay and needed us to do anything more. She said she thought she would be okay. We checked that the others felt safe now. No-one should feel so unsafe that they have to leave a park in broad day light.
Ryan King has written here about how we should not respond to the conversation taking place right now. Of course, it is true that men are victims of crime. Have I double checked I’ve locked the door, picked up the pace when followed behind at night or changed route? Of course I have, particularly when younger. The difference should be obvious though. My fear in such a situation is primarily of being mugged. It is highly unlikely that I have to fear sexual violence. As for the usual sickening and trite responses about “who is out at that time of day” and “they were asking for it by how they dressed” I hope that the examples I’ve given above set aside those old lies. In fact one of the people in the scenarios was clearly from a Muslim background, dressed modestly and wearing a headscarf.
So how are we going to respond?
First of all, we might need a little dose of that thing that sadly some Christians wanting to parade their “Biblical manliness” have been denouncing, that emotion called empathy. In fact, this highlights the difference between sympathy and empathy. I can sympathise with frightened women before telling them exactly why they don’t need to be afraid and why men have it just as bad, or I can listen, I can recognise the emotions they are experiencing and I can try to put myself in their shoes for a moment to get a sense of what it is like.
Secondly, by listening, we can hear what women have been asking for to help them feel safer.
Thirdly, we can challenge the culture. This means that a culture that continues to treat women as of less value, that treats them as sexual objects, that subjects them to degrading comments and jokes. It includes a culture where pornography including violent pornography is readily available and Pornhub continues to operate. It includes a culture where women seeking asylum are not believed and put through a process where they are forced to relive their past nightmares and are subject to further shaming.
We need to speak louder in saying that those things are wrong and are evidence of sin and idolatry. We need to do better at living differently from the culture around us. That is not just about negatively abstaining from those evil aspects of our society but positively living in a way that sends out a different message.
I’ve mentioned this book “Worthy” on Faithroots several times. As I’ve suggested previously, an immediate response might be to buy a copy to read with your daughter and to learn together. If you are a pastor, buy several copies and give them out to the fathers of teenage girls for this purpose.
Remember that the women and girls we are talking about are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, girlfriends.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
 Ephesians 5:25