‘Sabina Nessa: Say Her Name’: words printed over `the picture of a young woman clutching a degree certificate. She looked up at me from my phone screen, half-smiling. I knew, instantly, why this picture was being circulated. It had happened again.
Last March, it was Sarah Everard who stared out through my phone screen. A missing woman who soon morphed into a murder victim. For weeks it was impossible to escape Sarah’s picture. Her face appeared again and again; on the front pages of national newspapers; on television bulletins; instagram stories; facebook posts; twitter threads.
‘Many women have shared their stories and concerns online since Sarah’s disappearance last week. These are so powerful because each and every woman can relate.
Every woman should feel safe to walk on our streets without fear of harassment or violence,’ wrote Home Secretary Priti Patel in the wake of Everard’s disappearance. Patel went on to promise to use her ‘role to do all I can to protect women and girls from violence and harassment.’
Six months later, it has become evident that male violence and sexual harassment are forces that women cannot evade. Promises to protect women and prevent female violence have become empty expressions; worn-out words. Last week, the director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Andrea Simon, spoke out against the British government, asserting that, though ‘the government promised to take action to tackle violence against women (…) we are yet to see any meaningful transformation in the criminal justice system.’
Since March 2021, seventy-seven British women have been murdered by men. Indeed, a report by the Independent suggests that, in the UK, a woman dies as a result of male violence every three days. Sabina Nessa, it would seem, is only the latest in a long line of victims. Their names did not appear in our newspapers, their pictures have not been circulated online, but these women testify to the epidemic of male violence on Britain’s streets.
What’s more, the anonymity of these women victims, combined with the subdued media coverage of Sabina Nessa’s murder, suggests that violence against women – especially women of colour – no longer constitutes front-page news. Gender, according to Citizens UK, is a factor in over a third of existing hate crimes, yet only this week has the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, called for misogyny to be recognised and recorded as a hate crime in its own right. In a country where feminism is consistently posited as redundant – where gender equality is presented as a reality – the truth of misogyny’s prevalence goes unreported, unrecognised, and unresolved.
In light of this, the onus has been placed on women to foresee and forestall misogynistic violence. Women are repeatedly advised to see themselves as potential victims; to guard their bodies against attack. Greenwich Council have responded to the murder of Sabina Nessa by distributing rape alarms to women in the local area, while volunteers from Nessa’s community have set up a group to accompany women who feel vulnerable when walking out alone.
These responses are not unproblematic. Women should not have to depend on chaperones and alarms. They should not have to shape their schedules around daylight hours. They should not have to confine themselves to public spaces and busy streets. They should not have to view their own autonomy as a source of vulnerability.
We, as a society, cannot wait until another young woman’s face flashes across the news to find the means to address misogynistic violence. We cannot allow conversations surrounding violence against women to stop. These are conversations that have to continue and men’s voices must contribute to them before a concrete conclusion can be reached.
Sabina Nessa’s name is one that we must continue to say aloud. Her story is one that we must continue to recount until we find a way to ensure that it cannot be repeated.