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LONDON — She was just walking home.
The death of Sarah Everard, who was last seen on a busy south London street just after 9:30 p.m. on March 3, has gripped the United Kingdom.
Police confirmed Friday that a body found by investigators last Wednesday was that of the 33-year-old marketing executive, and that Wayne Couzens, an elite officer with London Metropolitan Police’s diplomatic protection command, had been charged with her murder.
Commenting on the arrest, Police Commissioner Cressida Dick that the case had sent “waves of shock and anger” through the public and the entire police force. “We are utterly appalled at this dreadful news,” she said. “Our job is to patrol the streets and to protect people.”
The case has also set off calls for action on male violence against women and girls, and a change in the dialogue that surrounds it.
While the search for Everard was underway, thousands of women shared stories online about the abuse and fears they have experienced on streets in Britain, where more than 70 percent of women have been sexually harassed in public, according to a 2019 United Nations study.
Among those to speak out was the “Game of Thrones” actress Nathalie Emmanuel, who talked about “the countless times” she had faced “predatory behavior by men,” in a Twitter thread.
I can think of so many incidents of predatory behaviour from men throughout my life…. age 10 or 11… I think that was the first time I was flashed by an adult man.
In an Instagram Story “Bridgerton” star Regé-Jean Page said: “Who are we not mentioning in this equation? It’s us. It’s men.”
“The grief and distress from women reacting to what happened to Sarah Everard shows just how differently women experience public space compared to men,” Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women campaign group, told NBC News.
“We rarely hear about what drives perpetrators to harm women and what needs to be put in place to stop this behavior,” she added.
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An impromptu memorial sprang up on Saturday in the south London neighborhood where Everard disappeared.
Having earlier planned vigils in cities across the country, the “Reclaim These Streets” group that organized the events canceled them after a judge refused to intervene in a legal challenge over their right to gather during coronavirus restrictions.
Instead, the group said it planned to raise money for women’s causes.
Later on Saturday as night fell, around a thousand people — mostly women — defied police warnings and gathered at the site of the memorial on London’s Clapham Common to pay their respects and protest, with some chanting “shame on you” at police who were present.
Amid anger at the police response to the gathering, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Saturday night that “the scenes from Clapham Common are unacceptable. The police have a responsibility to enforce Covid laws, but from images I’ve seen it’s clear the response was at times neither appropriate nor proportionate.”
He added that he was in contact with the police commissioner and “urgently seeking an explanation.”
Everard’s disappearance has shined a light on a double standard that exists: Women are expected to adapt their behavior to reduce personal risk, which in turn fuels a “victim-blaming culture” and detracts attention from male actions, Simon said.
“The thing that is depressing about this whole discussion is, too often, I think women are told not to go out alone after dark. I just can’t even imagine the outrage if men were told that,” Anna Yearley, executive director of Reprieve, a legal action nongovermental organization, said. “Why should the onus be on women?”
“You realize just how normal these things have become. We’ve sort of been conditioned as women to always be nervous when we’re on the streets,” she added.
Women in London were nearly twice as likely as men to mention personal safety as a barrier to walking and using public transport, according to a 2019 report by the Centre for London, a think tank.
Admitting that the city was not safe for women and girls, Khan told the local LBC radio station earlier in the week that “it was really important that people of my gender understand that.”
Jenny Jones, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, also suggested that all men should adhere to a 6 p.m. curfew.
Some men have said they were being unfairly portrayed, using the #NotAllMen hashtag on Twitter, although others have asked what they can do to reduce the anxiety women feel when walking alone at night.
That has spurred an outpouring of advice online from women, who have shared suggestions for how men can make their presence feel less uncomfortable — by doing things like crossing the street instead of staying behind a woman late at night, and speaking up if they witness bad behavior.
“Men can be amazing allies in this and can really help shift the narrative,” Yearley said.
Yasmine Salam is a researcher in the NBC News Investigative Unit.
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