At A Time When The Murder Of Sarah Everard Has Put Violence Against Women At The Top Of The Political Agenda, Why Is It Actually Getting Worse? And What Has Been The Media’s Role

At A Time When The Murder Of Sarah Everard Has Put Violence Against Women At The Top Of The Political Agenda, Why Is It Actually Getting Worse? And What Has Been The Media’s Role

Chapter 1 – The photographic media representation of Sarah Everard’s Vigil and how this relates to violence against women 

Subheading- How many women have been killed by men since Sarah’s death?

Chapter 2- How the male gaze theory accounts for victim-blaming in the media reporting of rape and abuse 

Chapter 3- Gender inequality in the photojournalism industry and its violent implications for women globally 

 

Introduction

The critical framework concerns male gaze and how it can account for violence against women in contemporary British society. This dissertation will highlight why violence towards women is becoming worse despite this issue topping the political agenda. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to highlight why women do not feel safe in society, especially when walking home alone or outside their home; to discuss how women’s lives are affected by the never-ending abuse and cycle of violence; and to highlight the measures women are taking to keep themselves safe. 

This dissertation will present data regarding how many women have been killed since Sarah Everard’s death, which has brought the discussion about women’s safety to the frontline. Her case was also discussed in parliament and the importance of what must be done to protect women and girls has become the government’s number one priority. 

The case of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, murdered by a serving Metropolitan police officer shocked the country. The murderer Wayne Couzens was a 48-year-old police officer who had served on the force since 2002. Sarah was walking home through Clapham, South London, when Couzens stopped her and showed her his police ID. He handcuffed and falsely accused her of breaching Covid rules before forcing her into his car. Couzens later raped Sarah and strangled her to death with his police belt. After murdering her, he put her body in two green rubble bags then dumped them in a pond in a woodland area he owned in Heads Wood in Ashford. Couzens took advantage of the pandemic and the covid patrols to target his victim. He was later charged and sentenced to life in prison. (Morton, 2021)

The research will also focus on how the media coverage of Sarah Everard’s death highlighted the critical issue of violence against women. It will include images taken by photojournalists at Sarah Everard’s vigil in Clapham Common, which sparked outrage across the country. In addition, the media’s role in covering women’s safety will also be discussed as will the importance of understanding the male gaze and how men perceive women. Particular focus will be placed on men’s historical views on women which may well lead to misogyny, sexism, abuse and violence towards women which then results in victim-blaming.

In addition, this paper will also highlight how violence and abuse have consequences on women and girls; how women are victim-blamed and gaslighted by the authorities such as the police and those services set up to help women who have been raped and abused by men; how women are at risk from violence from men and are blamed for it too; and why this never-ending cycle perpetuates further abuse. 

Furthermore, this work will argue who is responsible for ending violence towards women and girls and that men need to take responsibility. It includes women’s personal experiences and speaks out against male violence as women and girls are still being raped, harassed and abused.

This paper poses the question what the police are doing to rectify and address violence towards women and girls in light of the photography taken at Sarah Everard’s vigil, which showed women’s safety must be taken seriously. It also discusses the police’s responsibility to recognise and act upon misogynistic culture within the force and highlights what changes need to be made to reform the police force to tackle violence against women and girls. 

Finally, this work illustrates that throughout the history of photojournalism, it has been male photographers that cover violence and abuse towards women and girls. More importantly the paper shows how photojournalism has played a part in representing women globally, from wars to humanitarian crises. Photojournalism is a male-dominated industry and the reason why we see women photographed looking helpless and powerless. The paper concludes by focusing on how photojournalists have a role to play in women’s safety and discusses what must be done within the industry to make drastic changes for gender equality and tackle violence against women and girls.

Chapter 1 – The photographic media representation of Sarah Everard’s Vigil and how this relates to violence against women.” 

The media coverage, especially the photographic representation of Sarah Everard when she was missing and of her death, including the photography from the vigil, sparked outrage across the globe. In London, where Sarah Everard was murdered, women were frightened for their safety, afraid that they could be next. News headlines such as “The disappearance of Sarah” “Sarah Everard murder” was covered extensively by all media: appearing on our TV screens, in print journalism and broadcast journalism. Her death ignited anger in women. (White, 2021)

(White, 2021)

The media coverage was significant and played a vital part in catching Sarah’s killer. The message from the media was direct, consequential and its coverage helped women’s voices to be heard allowing them to share their personal experiences of abuse by men, especially by those who are supposed to protect women and girls, such as police officers. 

Sarah Everard’s death prompted Lilly, to set up a website for women, so they could share their personal experience of abuse by police officers (Women’s experiences of abuse by police – Police Me Too, 2021).

The website allows women to share their experiences of abuse by police officers anonymously. The experiences of all the women on this site are horrific, however, one woman, Freya, shared her experience of being married to a violent and abusive police officer:  

“They pushed me out in front of a car when I was five months pregnant. They abused me physically, sexually, psychologically, and financially. I was not allowed to spend my own money. I was so coercively controlled by them; I was still timing my visits to the supermarket even after I left him. In the end, I feared he would kill me. He had threatened me with a knife and I rang 999 but the police just ‘had words’ with him. When I tried to leave him, he raped me. He was also aggressive to our children and mistreated our dog. The two men I dated afterwards were intimidated by the police officer’s colleagues when neither had ever been stopped by a police officer before. I’ve never been able to get any kind of justice” (Women’s experiences of abuse by police – Police Me Too, 2021)

Another victim, Deedee, wrote: 

“I went through sexual harassment by a supervising officer when I first joined the police. It was brushed under the carpet and he went on to do something worse to someone else”

In addition, Leanne described her harrowing experience of abuse:

I met him in a professional setting (dog handler/ vet). He was charming and flattered me to the point of being cringe-worthy…he later looked me up on Facebook and started to message me. I remained friendly and professional, but I started to see him drive slowly past my house early in the morning…how had he found out where I lived?” (Women’s experiences of abuse by police – Police Me Too, 2021)

The women who wrote about their experiences are brave. When a man abuses a woman, the very first thing she does is report it to the police. There needs to be a level of trust between women and the police. If women feel they do not feel safe around police officers, it will deter them from reporting violence, harassment and abuse.

Women’s reactions up and down the country proved widespread violence towards women. Both women and girls across the UK took to the streets protesting to end violence and abuse towards women. After the murder of Sarah Everard, vigils were held in cities and towns across Britain from London to Manchester. (Walker, 2021) Reclaim these streets, was set up shortly after the death of Sarah Everard to focus on women and community empowerment and it was this organisation that planned the Sarah Everard vigil in Clapham Common. The Metropolitan police attempted to ban the vigil claiming a demonstration would be illegal under the coronavirus lockdown regulations, and that the vigil would be unlawful and could bring thousands of pounds criminal prosecutions. Fortunately for Reclaim the streets, the extensive media coverage helped them reach millions of people, particularly women, and drew attention to how the police had tried to silence them.

When the group announced that they might be fined if the vigil went ahead, they reached out to the public through media coverage and managed to crowdfund over £30,000 for any legal costs that they may incur from the Metropolitan police. They Claimed that if any money is raised, it will go towards legal costs or, as they stated, “If we win the judgment, the money raised will be donated to a women’s charity”. (Badshah, 2021). Furthermore, the organisation’s lawyers wrote to the police challenging their decision of not allowing the vigil to go ahead, stating that not being able to protest violates the human rights act. 

The vigil was held in Clapham Common, where Sarah had been walking home when Wayne Couzens stopped her and was the last time where Sarah was seen. On 13th March 2020, A crowd of 1500 people, primarily women, gathered at Clapham Common in South London for Sarah’s vigil to pay their respect to her. Women laid flowers covering the Banstead with personal messages, candles and placards. (Sarah Everard Tribute – in Pictures – Photojournalism Times, 2021) One placard read

 “Sarah did everything right. It’s men’s time”.

Parveen Ali For Photojournalism Times 2021

Another read 

An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”

Parveen Ali For Photojournalism Times 2021

These images of placards prove how women feel about their safety. Women of all ages showed up at the vigil to pay their respects to Sarah Everard. Women were crying; they were sad and shocked. There was a lot of hurt and upset. As the evening drew in, more women gathered. The police presence increased then the vigil took a turn for the worst. Patsy Stevenson, a 28-year-old physics student from London, was brutally pushed to the ground and several police officers pinned her down. She was detained, handcuffed and later fined £200. 

The photo taken by Hannah McKay of Patsy Stevenson being pinned by police officers down shocked the nation. Patsy later described that “When I was cuffed at the Everard vigil, I thought: this is how Couzens got Sarah” (Scott, 2022)

Hannah McKay (Reuters, 2021)

Hannah McKay (Reuters, 2021)

The above image of Patsy Stevenson evoked emotions raising important questions such as why a vigil had been held for a woman raped and murdered by a serving Metropolitan police officer. Instead of the police showing a level of understanding, instead they chose to manhandle women like Patsy Stevenson. 

The photo was published in several news outlets, including Reuters, the BBC, The Guardian, The Independent and many more.  If we look closely at the photo, Patsy looks frightened and shocked. The policemen are holding her down whilst she is on the ground. It appears that her hands are behind her back and the policemen appear to be handcuffing her. Patsy Stevenson has since been sent death threats and feared for her safety. What should have been a peaceful vigil for Sarah turned violent and aggressive.

Another interesting fact about the photo of Patsy Stevenson, which was taken by Hannah McKay, is that at the British photojournalism awards 2021, the photo won the photojournalism category. What is incredibly powerful is that a female photojournalist took the photograph of a woman being manhandled by policemen. This makes the photo iconic as there are so few women photojournalists in the industry. The photo will always be associated with the death of Sarah Everard and will be significant in the fight against violence against women and girls. (Tobitt, 2021)

Although women spoke about violence against women by police officers, violence and abuse against women is a global problem from men in every profession, not just by police officers. Women are killed by the hands of men every week in the UK alone. 

How many women have been killed since Sarah Everard’s death?

The figures speak for themselves – over 100 women have been killed by men since Sarah Everard was kidnapped, murdered and raped by a serving police officer despite the countless Interviews from MPs, the police and from those in power. These horrific statistics show that violence and abuse towards women are not improving. It’s actually getting worse and the number of women who have died at the hands of men since Sarah’s death is shocking. (Dresch and Chin-Den-Coy, 2021)

Below are just a few of the names of women who were killed in 2021

Mirror, 2021

Sabina Nessa was a 28-year-old primary school teacher from southeast London. 

Imogen Bohajczuk, 29, was killed by her partner Daniel Grant Smith. 

Geetika Goyal, aged 29, was stabbed to death by her husband.

Emma McArthur, 43, was killed in Thatcham Berkshire.

Sherrie Milnes, 51, was killed at home in Weymouth.

Samantha Mills, 31, aka Sammy, was murdered in an arson attack at her home in Huddersfield. 

23rd December 2021, a young woman decided to go for a jog on Streatham Common. Sadly, she was violated and raped by a stranger.

Sarah Keith, 26, was found dead at home in Leeds

Maria Rawlings, 45, was found dead in Essex she was strangled  

The list of the number of women killed by men in the last 12 months continues to grow. Many of the women were young and had a life ahead of them. (Dresch and Chin-Den-Coy, 2021)

Since Sarah Everard’s death, Channel 4 dispatches aired a programme called “The Rape Debate” Who’s on Trial”. Highlighting the truth that a man who commits rape or sexual assault will often not be convicted. Out of the hundreds of thousands of rapes or serious sexual assaults every year, only a tiny number, just over 1%, results in a conviction. The question that was asked on the show was why is violence towards women actually becoming worse and what must be done about it. Jackie Long spoke to a panel and an audience of women about the issues raised. During the programme, Jackie Long asked the studio audience to stand up if they had ever experienced rape or sexual assault. Sadly, all of the women stood up. If women are being abused so frequently and there are very few convictions, how can women trust the authorities? Findings like this will deter women from reporting sexual assault, rape and harassment. (The Rape Debate: Who’s on Trial? – All 4, 2021) 

Like Channel 4, many media organisations also covered the death of Sarah Everard. As a result, the police were left with no choice but to tackle violence against women. Despite the head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick announcing she recognises attitudes and behaviour of police officers needed to change, the public has very little faith in her after the Sarah Everard vigil, where the police were seen manhandling women and arresting them. The public demanded a full enquiry and demanded Cressida Dick step down from her position. However, Cressida Dick refused to step down from her position as the head of the Metropolitan police. 

In November 2021, the Metropolitan police launched a new action plan to address violence and abuse towards women. The new framework discusses the key changes that need to be made to tackle violence and abuse towards women. Cressida Dick, the commissioner for the metropolitan police, highlights the importance of the plan. (Dick, 2021)

The police framework sets out to increase the number of arrests of those abusing and harassing women and girls; to bring them to justice; and to make the process easier when reporting abuse and violence for women and girls. Cressida Dicks goal is to ensure that women do not become repeat victims of rape and abuse. She plans to build trust and increase women’s confidence, so they feel comfortable reporting rape and abuse to tackle misogyny within the police force itself. 

The new plan is a step in the right direction to tackle violence and abuse towards women and girls. However, there is a significant amount of work still to be done by the metropolitan police to restore the faith of millions of women and girls. Therefore, women are concerned how this work will be carried out and when will any changes be seen.

Although the plan will be completed in March 2022, the head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, was forced to resign on the 10th of February 2022. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, claimed that Dick failed to tackle the culture of racism and misogyny. In her resignation statement, she said that she was left with no choice but to step down as Sadiq Khan said that he had no confidence in her leadership. (Bowden, 2022). This all came about after the police watchdog found discrimination, misogyny and racism amongst police officers, in particular at Charing Cross police station. (Met Police: Misogyny, racism, bullying, sex harassment discovered, 2021) Now that Cressida Dick has resigned, there are concerns on who will be the new head of the Metropolitan police and how they will tackle violence against women and girls. 

Ultimately, it is clear that the media has played a significant role in highlighting the violence and abuse towards women that helped millions of women in Britain after Sarah Everard’s death—enabling people to understand the true scale of violence towards women. Their coverage of Sarah’s death and Sarah’s vigil put women’s safety at the top of the political agenda. It also encouraged discussions in parliament on women’s safety. Despite the media often being perceived as having a bad reputation and are often shunned by the public, their coverage of Sarah Everard’s death perfectly exemplifies how the media helped an important cause promoting the safety of women.

Chapter 2 – How the male gaze theory accounts for victim-blaming in the media reporting of rape and abuse 

One major contributory factor to this never-ending misogyny and violence towards women and girls is the way men traditionally perceive women. This issue is addressed in John Berger’s book ‘Ways of seeing’ and is crucial because it addresses the male gaze. Since women are judged mainly by men, it is essential to read about his perspective. Some of the points he makes are vital such as “how to be born a woman comes with its challenges”. In this book, Berger talks about the difference between a man’s presence and a woman’s and his honest writing enables the reader to understand how women are perceived. “Men survey women before treating them” and a woman must gracefully accept she will be surveyed. Although disturbing to the modern reader, it is still relevant as very little has changed regarding how women are perceived. (Berger, 1972). 

When Berger stated : “By contrast, a woman’s presence expresses her own attitude to herself and defines what can and cannot be done to her. Her presence is manifest in her gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings, taste – indeed, there is nothing she can do that does not contribute to her presence. Presence for a woman is so intrinsic to her person that men tend to think of it as an almost physical emanation, a kind of heat or smell or aura.” 

He is essentially saying that a woman has no control over how she is treated by men. Men are the ones who survey women and decide how to treat them. This perception of women from the male gaze encourages a stereotypical view of women, which often leads to women being abused and harassed by men. Ultimately the male gaze results in victim-blaming, which has become so prevalent within our society. 

Victim blaming is defined as transferring the blame from the perpetrator to the victim. The term was first coined by William Ryan in 1971. Ryan used this term to refer to blame and violence towards black communities in the US and came about after the Moynihan Report in 1965 blamed poverty and racism on Black family life, stereotypes of single mothers, absent fathers, and lower levels of education. Essentially, Moynihan blamed black communities for being subjected to racism and oppression perpetrated against them by white people. (Taylor. J 2020)

Another example of victim-blaming is in Laura Bates book ‘Men who hate women’ some comments made by men included:

“women are out of control and have been for a very long time. It’s going to take a serious event to get them to behave like decent adults”. 

Men aren’t men anymore and have allowed women to walk all over them. So, like the rest of us, we have no choice but to do what we’re doing now and just go our own way.” 

These opinions were expressed by a new level of extremism, ‘incels’. This mostly unheard of term describes a tiny group of online “weird” men. They are the most violent of the manned space online with group chats and belong to a community of thousands of men who have a strong hatred of women. Some of their members write how they “hate all women, that they are the scum of the earth, how women are fucking whores, evil, vile and disgusting”. Yet, surprisingly, the majority of these men are blue-collar workers who work in IT and are professional men working in professional jobs. Their attitudes towards women and their perception of women are not only problematic but incredibly dangerous. Men like incels are a danger to women and girls. These men blame women for not being able to have a relationship or have sex. (Bates, 2021)

Victim blaming comes in so many different forms. In sexual violence towards women, victim-blaming includes a woman’s character, her behaviour, appearance and her decisions, instead of blaming the male offender who committed the act. Victim blaming is not unique to sexual violence and is generally split into behavioural and situational blame, which often overlap. Women are often accused that their behaviour is the reason why sexual violence was perpetrated against them. (Taylor. J 2020)

Some examples of victim-blaming include: she got in a taxi alone. She was flirting. She was using a dating app. She was asking for it, or she wore revealing clothing. The character traits of a woman are also blamed, such as she is promiscuous, sexualised, too trusting, naïve, or she is vulnerable. Society also blames the woman for making poor choices or taking risks. 

Another type of blaming is ‘situational blaming’, again placing the blame on the woman and girl’s situation. What ‘situational blaming’ does is that it will remove the blame from the offender and blame the victim for being in certain situations. Examples of situational blaming include the woman was walking home through the park, which is dangerous and claim that if a woman goes to a hotel, then she is likely to be abused or that if she goes jogging alone, which is risky and could lead to rape (Taylor. J 2020)

Women are told that in order to avoid being raped and abused; they must wear brighter clothing, carry rape alarms, not go out alone, make sure to walk past CCTV, wear shoes so they can run if they need to and not to wear earphones. Some women are frightened to take the short route, so they take the longer route when walking home because the shorter route might be dark or derelict. The responsibility is left on women to protect themselves from violence towards them by men. Women are supposed to text a friend or family member to let them know where they are or that they are on their way home. Other women have been known to clutch on to their keys just in case a man tries to attack them. (Taylor. J 2020)

Although Sarah Everard did everything she was supposed to when walking home through Clapham Common, she was murdered by a policeman. However, over the years many women have walked home alone and many may have been raped, assaulted and some even killed, however, because the media did not cover their experience, we may never know about such cases.  

Women are doing all the correct things, yet society still focuses on women keeping themselves safe rather than focusing on what men can do to end violence and abuse towards women and girls. This is not addressing violence and abuse towards women and girls. This attitude is victim-blaming. (Pantony, 2021)

Another important factor to recognise is that women are victim-blamed when reporting abuse and rape. More often than not, situational blaming is employed by police forces, local authorities and safety campaigns. It seems that when women should be listened to, understood and heard, instead, they face victim-blaming. This constant blaming of women is problematic and disturbing within our society. Women are left unheard, abused, and targeted as their voices are not being heard. (Taylor. J 2020)

One such example is when Nottinghamshire police were accused of victim-blaming. Nottinghamshire police posted on Facebook that walking unaccompanied was a risk to women and that women should not walk outdoors alone at night as it was dangerous. Later, they later deleted the post but not before their post caused a huge backlash online. Although Nottinghamshire police apologised for the comment, women were angered by the police’s comments.

A woman replied: May I politely remind you it is 2019 and we no longer blame women for whatever crime has been committed against them” (Halliday, 2019)

If police officers and the authorities blame the woman for being abused, raped, stalked, harassed or targeted by men, women are less likely to feel comfortable reporting rape and violence, which will lead to perpetrators getting away with abusing women. They may even go on to abuse more women. Essentially this attitude is putting other women at risk and the perpetrator will assume it is acceptable to abuse more women. If a man gets away with abusing a woman, he may likely to re-offend without any consequences. He may feel as he got away with it the first time it’s perfectly ok to sexually abuse another woman and that he may get away with it without any consequences. Sex offenders who have been convicted of rape have been known to reoffend. This is extremely worrying since conviction rates for rape and abuse towards women are low. (How many rapists re-offend? – Full Fact, 2019)

In August 2020, a shocking example of victim-blaming was widely reported in newspapers. A nineteen-year-old British girl was gang-raped by four men when on holiday in Cyprus. Despite all the evidence and her testimony, the men aged between fifteen and twenty-two were allowed to fly back to Israel while she was sentenced to four months in prison, suspended for three years and a £125 fine. Photos of the young woman were all over the media. We did not get to see her face as she was covering it with a scarf.

(Karadjias, 2020) AP

Many argued that this was a clear case of injustice towards the young woman. Female activists turned up outside of the court in Cyprus during the hearings. They were offering their support to the young woman. The nineteen-year old woman, who was about to start university, was questioned by police for hours and hours. She was then prosecuted for lying to the police. The young woman was victim-blamed by not only the men who abused her but by the authorities over in Cyprus. (Osborne-Crowley, 2020) Her case made headlines worldwide. Most of the media coverage remained neutral on her rape claims. Shockingly, one of the perpetrators, a 19-year old footballer, claimed he had a fling with her and their relationship was consensual and it was reported he stated: “I hope she has learned her lesson” as he told the police that he held her down while she was gang- raped. That behaviour is abusive and sexually violent. It seems because she was victim blamed, the men were able to say and do what they wanted to her. (Thompson, 2020)

Thankfully recently, her name was cleared and all charges were dropped. However, she had to endure an awful process to clear her name. She should not have had to go through that in the first place. She should have been believed when she made the allegation. This is what is wrong with society always blaming the woman. (Kirk, 2022) The press probably should have done more to help her. 

We live in a culture where victim-blaming has become so prevalent that when a woman reports abuse, society assumes she is the guilty one. As a society tackling the attitudes of those in power must change if we are seriously addressing violence against women and girls. (On violence against women & girls and victim-blaming | Rape Crisis England & Wales, 2021)

Like the police, the UK government is trying to do things to help as they opened a nationwide case after the death of Sarah Everard to tackle violence against women and girls. According to the new government strategy report, the definition of the term “violence against women and girls,’ refers to different acts of violence and abuse towards women. Some criminal behaviours include rape, stalking, sexual violence, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and honour killings. Also, the abuse women and girls experience online must all be considered. The government claims that the term violence against women and girls refers to any of the offences mentioned in their strategy. (UK Gov 2021)

Although the abuse, violence, and misogyny are widespread from culture to culture, women of colour experience abuse far more than any other group of women. According to Women’s Aid, women of colour have to deal with the pressures of arranged marriage and cultural issues such as family pressures and religious manipulation. They also struggle to access the same services that non BAME women would experience, (Women’s Aid, 2020). This never-ending cycle of violence towards women is worrying and must be addressed by the press the authorities by everyone. 

Chapter 3 – Gender inequality in the photojournalism industry and its violent implications for women and girls 

Photojournalists have a role to play in women’s safety, especially male photojournalists. Historically photojournalism has been a male-dominated industry. A male photojournalist would travel country to country with a camera around his neck documenting conflict, war and humanitarian crisis. However, this concept of the male gaze is problematic and does not present an accurate view of the world

Some of the most powerful images of women and girls in photojournalism portray them in the middle of conflict, war or a humanitarian crisis, often while a male photojournalist takes the photo. What we see here is a male perspective on violence and abuse against women and girls. Women are seldomly seen in an empowering position. 

(Hondros, 2014) For The Guardian

One such image is the photo taken by Chris Hondros in Iraq of a soldier sitting on a sofa with two young girls. The power the soldier has with his gun in one hand and what looks like a walkie talkie in another hand. The two young girls look somewhat afraid, unsure and scared. The photojournalist, a man, also has the power as he is the one taking the photo. The young girls are the only ones that are not in an empowering position. This is exactly what is wrong with photojournalism men have all the power.

(Reuters, 2014)

Photojournalism from Syria includes violence against women and girls. In the above image, there is a Syrian woman looking distressed and she appears to be crying. On closer inspection, in the background, it seems as if there may have been an explosion of some kind. At the start of the Syrian war photos like this were all over the media. The photography from the war in Syria showed how widespread violence against women and girls truly is globally and not just in the UK. According to a UN report, rape and sexual violence were highly prevalent in Syria. For women, the fear of sexual violence took priority when it came to their safety in this country torn apart by conflict and war. Ultimately men across the globe made the decision to go to war in Syria to throw bombs on innocent women and children. Syrian women and girls were experiencing violence against women first-hand. Not only by the Syrian regime but also men who entered a country as soldiers or those fighting as rebels in the name of “War”. (Al Arabiya, 2014)

Rape was used as a weapon to silence and torture women as a military operation in Syria. Some women were used as human shields and kidnapped. Yet again, we see a power dynamic of a male photographer taking photos of distressed women in a country run by men and invaded by men. 

An example of abuse that took place in Syria involves a 19-year-old Syrian woman who was detained on the south coast between October 2012 and January 2013. During this time, she was raped by three soldiers – yet another example of how violence and abuse against women and girls were used on women. In countries such as Syria, reporting rape and sexual violence have a stigma attached to it which makes it even more difficult to report such incidents. Not being able to speak about being abused can have an enormous effect on women’s mental health. Bottling up such trauma can result in long term psychological problems. This violence against women and girls, which is used as a weapon, is dangerous and problematic. Using women to make a point is not only a violation of human rights but full-blown abuse. Thankfully some women and girls managed to flee the country and according to the United Nations, three-quarters of those who have become refugees are women and children. (Al Arabiya, 2013)

Photography not only from Syria but the majority of wars is captured by male photojournalists and after analysing the history of photojournalism and scrolling through the internet, it is apparent is that what is seen frequently is photography of women’s suffering by a male photojournalist from a male perspective. 

This situation is made worse due to the disproportionately low numbers of women in photojournalism which, although discussed before, these conversations have failed to address the root causes and there is evidence of poor representation of women in photojournalism. (Tobitt, 2019). A new study recently determined that women photographers were less likely to be employed by large media companies (7%) compared to men (22%) (Lowry, 2015). Factors such as sexual harassment have deterred women from pursuing careers in photography and photojournalism. Although women have attempted to break into a competitive, cash-strapped, and male-dominated industry, they are hindered by problems such as sexism and harassment in the photography and photojournalism industry. (Jackson, 2019)

An article based on data from 545 women photographers from 71 countries collected between January 2015 and February 2016 suggested women are far better educated and trained in the field of photography and photojournalism. Women face far more demanding circumstances and situations compared to their male counterparts. According to the study women, photographers see themselves as visual storytellers and not photojournalists. They also appear to be more versatile. Ultimately the study concluded that photojournalism is a heavily male-dominated profession, including news photography. The study also highlighted that in 2016 the winners for all categories at the World Press Photo Awards were all male. (Mustard, 2017)

This study has helped to highlight that if we are to provide a true representation of women and girls, there needs to be more women photojournalists. Women covering violence against women and girls is a step in the right direction, not only for female empowerment, but it also helps women to truly understand the suffering of other women. To obtain a balanced view of the world and to end violence against women and girls, there needs to be more female representation within the photojournalism industry. (Holland and Barnett, 2018)

Conclusion 

The Sarah Everard case has shown us how prevalent violence towards women and girls is within our society. The vigil held for Sarah Everard in Clapham Common highlighted women’s concerns for their safety. The media coverage of her death enabled women to have their voices heard. As discussed, the male gaze theory contributes to violence against women and girls within British society. 

Ultimately the male gaze is problematic. It empowers and encourages men to sexualise women, which often leads to women being harassed and abused. The misogynistic attitudes from men need to be addressed and their views must change to protect women and girls from violence. The photography from Sarah’s vigil presented us with hard evidence displaying how women are treated when they speak out against their experience of abuse, rape and harassment. The way in which women were treated by the Metropolitan police at Sarah’s vigil should be a turning point for addressing women’s safety once and for all. 

Photography plays a vital role in highlighting the challenges people face. Here is a perfect example of how its ability to push for social change by illustrating the problems associated with violence against women and girls in British society. 

Photography is very much relevant to highlight violence against women and girls now than it was many years ago. It is needed now more than ever. A photograph can change the views of a person or the views of a nation, like the photo of Patsy Stevenson being pinned to the ground. The powerful photos by Hannah McKay from the vigil put into perspective how widely spread violence against women and girls really is. What is also shown is that men in powerful positions like police officers can also be the perpetrators. 

There need to be changes in the photojournalism industry. Male sexism and misogyny need to be addressed immediately. More women need to be welcomed into the industry and it is the responsibility of media organisations and photography competitions to include women’s work. Male photojournalists need to consider the safety of women rather than a photo opportunity.

Violence against women and girls made it to the top of the political agenda. The government introduced a new framework, as have the police. However, the response to recognising the urgency of tackling women’s safety was immediate. We are yet to see any real change. Many have questioned if the new framework and strategy by the UK government will help women feel safer also how the police implementing their new framework will make a difference. 

For women to feel safe and be heard, there need to be major changes in attitudes within our society, also from those in power like the government, the police and organisations that have been set up to help women and girls. The police need to be held accountable for tackling violence against women and girls both inside and outside the force. There needs to be more training offered to police officers to handle violence against women cases. This may help with convicting perpetrators as the conviction rate is low. 

Very few women feel confident in reporting their abuse to the police. There is a huge systemic issue of misogyny within the police. When a new head of the Metropolitan police is in power, their priority should be ensuring women feel safer on the streets and confident in reporting violence and abuse. It is time to put an end to the culture of victim-blaming. 

If victim-blaming continues, then women will continue being abused. It is time to take responsibility for how women are treated. For far too long, women and girls have been blamed for men’s behaviour. This cannot continue. Nor should women and girls blame themselves for men’s actions. 

Women’s safety should not be left on women since it’s men that are perpetrators. Men need to help tackle this issue and speak out against such violence by changing their behaviour their attitudes towards women and campaigning to end misogyny and abuse. The truth is women are victims of a misogynistic society. Sarah Everard’s death should be a learning curve for everyone in our society to take action to end violence and abuse towards women once and for all. 

Moving forward, it’s down to the authorities to ensure women and girls, receive the best level of care when accessing services for rape, abuse and harassment. However, men are the majority of perpetrators of violence against women and girls. Women who work in organisations to help victims of violence, abuse and rape often victim blame women and girls, which is part of the problem. Their attitudes are contributing to the cycle of violence towards women and girls. 

If those working in such services have lost their empathy to help women and girls who have been abused, then it is time for them to leave, as they are doing more damage than good. Their victim-blaming attitudes are leaving women damaged and distressed. Recruit people who genuinely care for the safety and welfare of women and girls. 

Britain is a country of values and fairness. For a safer society for everyone, especially women and girls, serious changes need to be made. To ensure that future generations of women and girls do not have to endure such behaviours from men. It’s time for everyone to take responsibility especially men to make the safety of women and girls their number one priority.                                                                           

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