14 March 2021
The horrific abduction and murder of Sarah Everard raises a number of important questions, and not just about the startling lack of information given by the police or how they dealt with last night’s vigil.
The most obvious question is about what women can do to make themselves safer, like avoiding dark and deserted places at night, wearing flat shoes to make running easier, holding your keys in your hand so you don’t have to stop and search for them, and keeping one key sticking out between your fingers if you think you might have to punch someone, using your phone to tell friends where you are and when you’re home safely. If you do feel threatened, try to take and send a photograph of the person to a friend, ring 999 and leave the line open, then say enough to your assailant for the call centre to realise what’s happening and send help, carry a rape alarm and, if you use it, throw it away when it starts to screech and run like hell (it’s more natural for the attacker to look at where the sound is going than where you are), scream and remember that, if you do end up having to defend yourself, there are no rules about where you kick or bite or poke or scratch or, even in these Covid-19 days, spit.
When they were young, I told my children they should never get into a car with anybody they hadn’t seen with their mother or me and if anybody tried to force them to get in, they were allowed to scream and kick break things and make as much noise as possible. I always had a slight feeling that my eldest was rather hoping to be able to try this out but, luckily, he never needed to.
As a man who’s never felt threatened, I was most affected by the answers given to a man who’d asked how we can make women feel safer if we see one on her own at night, or see one who is looking scared.
Their suggestions included several things I hadn’t thought of, including crossing the street to the other side if a woman is coming towards you or you’re coming up behind her and want to overtake, make sure your face is visible, don’t get too close in narrow or confined spaces such as alleyways, underpasses, stairs in multi-storey car parks; stand aside and back to let them through first, or let them know you’re coming by saying “I’m on a bicycle / jogging and coming up on your left / right” so you don’t suddenly appear from behind. You can also stop to make a reassuring phone call that she can hear, perhaps something like “Hello darling, I’m on my way and will be home in about ten minutes. Have you got supper / dinner / tea or shall I pick up something on the way?”
If you notice a woman speeding up, this can be a sign she’s frightened so increase the distance between you by crossing the road, or stopping.
If you’ve been with a woman friend who’s planning to walk home, or to a station or bus stop, offer to walk with her and stay with her till her train / bus appears and she’s safely on it.
Another important thing men can prepare for is if we think a woman is being hassled by another man or men. I’ve always regretted that I didn’t do this about 35 years ago and was at a loss when I saw a young woman apparently being insulted by a group of young men. It was on a crowded railway station in Wembley after a Bob Dylan concert so there were plenty of others to help but I couldn’t think what to do.
I decided afterwards I could have gone over and said “Hi, Linda, it’s been a long time, how are you, are these people bothering you?” etc which would probably have helped defuse the situation, or at least taken the aggressors minds off the woman for long enough to change the atmosphere. Far too late for her but I’ve saved it in my mind in case I ever need it again.
While we’re talking about subjugating women, Arkansas has just passed a law banning all abortions except to save the life of the mother, so even pregnancies resulting from rape cannot be terminated. The state’s Republican governor, Asa Hutchinson, said he was signing the bill because of its “overwhelming legislative support and my sincere and long-held pro-life convictions”. Imagine carrying a rapist’s child inside you for nine months. I wonder what sort of gods these pro-life people believe in. I wonder too what they’d do if their wife or daughter had become pregnant after being raped.
Abraham would have done it for nothing and had raised the knife to kill Isaac before Yahweh said “No, hang on, I’ve changed my mind, kill that ram over there.” (Leonard Cohen wrote a lovely poem / song about this called, with a certain lack of imagination, ‘Song of Isaac’.)
And, while Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been released from house arrest at the end of her five-year sentence, she’s been unable to return to the UK because she faced new charges today and her passport is being held by the Iranians. The verdict should be known in the next week but nothing seems to be that predictable in Iran.
I thought a UK passport wasn’t technically necessary to enter the country if you had some photo ID but I’m sure Boris Johnson would ensure she was allowed into the UK since it was one of his lies, when he was Foreign Secretary, that she was “teaching people journalism”, that Iran used as evidence of her “propaganda against the regime”.
He has tweeted “Pleased to see the removal of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s ankle tag, but her continued confinement remains totally unacceptable. She must be released permanently so she can return to her family in the UK, and we continue to do all we can to achieve this.” So no change there then – all mouth and no trousers.
Meanwhile, Ghislaine Maxwell has been refused bail twice already but is still complaining about the conditions in her New York prison cell not providing the sort of lifestyle she’s been accustomed to. She’s even offered to give up her UK and French citizenships in exchange for bail but the authorities still think she’s likely to scarper again so they’re keeping her in. Anybody who feels sorry for her has been watching the wrong film.
About 20 years ago, I asked out of my curiosity if my face could be pasted onto a CCTV recording of a bank robbery and was not reassured by the answer. Now deepfakes are becoming increasingly popular but they’re not infallible and a new AI program can recognise and name all sorts of things and will, for example, recognise an apple as an apple; except that, if you write iPod on a post-it note and stick it on the apple, the system will decide it’s an ipod. This has useful implications for the military who will now be able to write CORNFIELD in large letters across a missile launch pad and the satellite searching for weapons will ignore it.
And this week’s good news is that Piers Morgan has been fired yet again which, I think, beats even Boris Johnson’s record. (I wonder why I dislike the man – I’ve never met him?) (Come to that, why do I dislike Simon Cowell who I’ve never even seen on TV, and Andrew Neil, who I have?)