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Continuing the conversation about women’s safety for Sabina Nessa

A little over six months ago I wrote a piece called ‘Sarah Everard was just walking home: a conversation about women’s safety and the potential to make change.’ I wrote this following news of the tragic murder of 33-year-old Marketing Executive, Sarah Everard.

Her case became very high-profile, and her name became synonymous with discussions on women’s safety — sadly, lack thereof.

Heartbreakingly, we now find ourselves in a similar position, mourning the loss of another young woman, Sabina Nessa.

Investigations are very much on going, but from the information available so far it appears that Sabina, left her home at around 8:30pm on Friday 17th September 2021. She walked through a park to meet a friend at a nearby bar.

Sadly, she didn’t make it to her destination.

During what should have been a 5-minute walk across the park, Sabina was tragically attacked. Minutes from her own doorstep.

Sabina was a 28-year-old, family-oriented, Primary School Teacher. At a vigil held on Friday 24th September, Jebina Yasmin Islam, Sabina’s older sister, spoke bravely to a crowd of hundreds as she described her ‘amazing, caring and beautiful sister.’ Watching the clips of Jebina speak was devastating and I can scarcely imagine the pain her loved ones are experiencing.

“Say her name. Sabina Nessa. We will never forget” were the words that echoed the vigil.

Sabina — just like Sarah, just like all of us — should have been able to safely walk alone. However instead, we mourn for her. The parallels of these two young women in South London, simply trying to get from-a-to-b, taking all the precautions instilled in us from day one, are harrowing. This is not just another case, this is another life, not lost but taken.

In my previous piece, myself and Professor Paola Dazzan, a woman, a psychiatrist, and academic at King’s College London, sat down to discuss the issue of women’s safety and how society can change. We discussed the normality of what Sarah was doing and this reflects with Sabina’s death too. We all walk through parks, we all go to meet our friends in bars, restaurants, coffee shops and we should. But we shouldn’t have to live with a fear that we won’t make it there, or home. Sabina, just like Sarah, could have been any of us.

When we hear tragic news like this, we are haunted with reminders about safety precautions we can take — staying in well-lit areas, holding your keys in your fist, sending your location. The list goes on. But the truth is, we don’t need reminding. These ‘precautions’ are second nature to women, used all the time to protect ourselves, but this horror still occurs. As the seasons change and the evenings get darker earlier we are all the more vulnerable, almost on curfew.

When crimes of violence against women occur, a conversation is started on social media — we discuss our own experiences, our concerns, our condemnation for the crime. Over the last few days many relating to Sabina Nessa have gone viral.

One instance was an Instagram post sharing a Whatsapp conversation between friends. They discuss concerns over their driver, sharing locations and making sure the man doesn’t know which house they are going into. It’s such a common conversation to have and the comments make clear that so many of us understand. In the caption the writer dismays on the warnings of what is safe for women to do; it is the violence against women that needs to change, not what we, as women, can do to prevent it.

What Paola and I discussed previously was how a shift is needed from responsibility being on women — until we, as a whole society, take action, this will not change:

It’s like society has accepted, until now, that the responsibility for women’s safety should lie with women. If this terrible event changes anything, hopefully it will be accepting responsibility of us all as a society. Men, women, young and old, teachers, politicians, or cultural figures — it is everyone’s responsibility, and this is the change that I hope will come.

The death of Sarah Everard caused a huge drive in the fight against gendered violence. But statistics suggest that little has changed beyond the conversation. A Femicide Census demonstrates the severity of the issue, reporting that on average, one woman is killed by a man every 3 days in the UK alone. Counting Dead Women, a UK based campaign, reports that 77 women have been killed between the deaths of Sarah and Sabina. We also know that women are more likely to experience sexual assault than men: according to a crime survey in England and Wales a reported 4.9 million women have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime compared to 989,000 men.

The day of Sabina’s attack, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) published a report on police response to tackling crimes against women and girls after commission by the Home Secretary. On the government website a policy paper can be read on this strategy: “These crimes are deeply harmful, not only because of the profound effect they can have on victims, survivors and their loved ones, but also because of the impact they can have on wider society, impacting on the freedom and equality we all should value and enjoy” the report reads, before setting out ambitions for change, including increasing support for victims, increasing the number of perpetrators bought to justice and prioritising prevention by means of investment in the Safer Streets Fund, as well as national awareness campaigns, investment in understanding best prevention, and implementing changes in the education system.

Speaking after Sabina’s attack, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan spoke of a need for a fully-joined up policy and urged the government to make the harassment of women a criminal offence. In the same spirit as her vigil, we should honour Sabina Nessa by using her name to continue and push forward not just the conversation, but also action. She deserves justice. The investigation is still ongoing and at time of writing police have just announced that a man has been arrested on suspicion of her murder.

Our thoughts are with all those affected by her untimely loss. Rest in peace Sabina.


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