Women’s safety campaigners have said “more needs to be done” a year on from Sarah Everard’s murder as they joined local politicians to unveil a bench commemorating victims of male violence.
Members of Reclaim Sutton’s Streets, an offshoot of the larger group Reclaim These Streets, demanded “fundamental change” as they spoke at the ribbon-cutting event in the town’s Trinity Square in south London.
Nearly 100 people, including Mayor Trish Fivey, braved the rainy weather to gather in the square on Saturday and pay tribute to all women who have been killed by men.
The bench, which features a brightly coloured mosaic with a motif of hearts and stars, was created by artists Samia Tossio and Hana Horack-Elyafi after campaigners received planning permission from Sutton Council.
Sarah McGuinness, head of the campaign group, hailed the community effort as evidence of progress but said it had come “at such a high cost”.
“We’d had enough and we wanted to make our streets safe,” she said.
“At last there is a genuine, cross-party, local commitment to end gender-based violence, but it’s at such a high cost.
“Slogans like ‘she was just walking home, she was just going for a run’ put women in a hierarchy against other women. We would never hear ‘she was just going for a one-night stand’. Why is it that women are sometimes blamed, more so than the predator?
“We have come so far but the language has got to change.”
Ms Fivey said the past week had been a “very sad reminder” of Ms Everard’s murder as well as other victims of male violence.
“Today, we’re here to unveil this very moving tribute to all women and girls who have died as a result of male violence, no matter who they were or where they lived,” she added.
The bench’s surface is inscribed with the words “never commit, never excuse, never be silent,” a phrase used by the White Ribbon Campaign.
Its approval came after women and girls expressed their anguish over the murders of Ms Everard and schoolteacher Sabina Nessa and asked what could be done to recognise the need for change.
Saturday’s event was scheduled in between the anniversary of Ms Everard’s death on March 4 and International Women’s Day on March 8.
Women in the crowd also shared the ways in which they had become more “cautious” and “anxious” while alone in public since Ms Everard’s death.
Joyce Bossey, a local florist who spoke at the event, said the unveiling had been “wonderful but emotional”.
Reflecting on the recent anniversary of Ms Everard’s death, Ms Bossey said it had left women “traumatised” and there was still a “nervousness and anxiety” about walking in public.
She also expressed ambivalence about the Metropolitan Police’s new Walk And Talk scheme, in which women are invited to “buddy up” with officers while travelling through areas in which they feel vulnerable and share their concerns.
“The police are not going to be walking through the park at night chaperoning you (all the time). That’s not going to be, unfortunately.
“It’s a good idea but change comes through education in our schools. It starts there”.
Sheila Butter, 54, said: “I personally don’t even go out in the dark any more. I don’t go out in the evening any more.
“We feel we have to (change our behaviour) but it should not be that way. It’s about men changing their behaviour, ultimately.”
She said putting the bench in a popular town square was a step towards the community at large being forced to confront the reality of violence against women.
“I will show my son (the bench) and talk to him about why it’s here,” Ms Butter said.
Nicola Weatherill, a 49-year-old teaching assistant, said: “I’ve become even more cautious (since Ms Everard’s murder). I feel like I’ve stepped up what I’m doing,” she said.
She added “anything that sparks a conversation” would help to keep the issue in the spotlight.
Ms McGuinness said she hoped the bench would serve as a “permanent way” of remembering all those who have been victims of male violence.
“We are going forward but there is still so much to be done,” she added.
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