Opinion: Sarah Everard’s death reminds women that the rules won’t always save them

Shannon Sollitt's keychain never leaves the house. It's just another reminder of the precautions women are expected to take to keep themselves safe. Photo by Shannon Sollitt/BU News Service

By Shannon Sollitt
Boston University News Service 

My alter-ego’s name is Sharon. 

When I introduce her, it is a joke. I say she is the product of a harmless language barrier, born in Argentina in 2014. “Shannon” didn’t roll off of Argentinian tongues easily. Eventually, enough people called me “Sharon” that I accepted it. 

That’s true. It’s also true that the night of her big debut, I stepped off a bus on my way to a friend’s apartment. It was dark; I was alone. Both my feet hadn’t even reached the pavement before a man’s face was inches from mine. “¿Cómo te llamas, mi amor?” What’s your name, sweetie? 

He followed me all four blocks to my friend’s apartment, begging for my name. Finally, I gave it to him: “Sharon.”

Sharon was born of necessity. Where Shannon was polite to a fault, Sharon was sharper and more assertive. Shannon didn’t know how to say “no.” Sharon did; she even took pleasure in it. Buenos Aires might have swallowed Shannon whole. Sharon became both an alter-ego and a guardian. 

I thought about Sharon again this week. I wonder if Sarah Everard had an alter-ego. I wonder who she was trying to be in her final moments. I wonder if she died afraid — or worse if she died furious because she was doing everything right. And it wasn’t enough to save her. 

Everard disappeared the night of March 3. She did the things women are supposed to do to keep themselves safe: she wore bright clothes; she took a longer, better-lit route home; she called her boyfriend; she even changed into sneakers. Police found her body a week later and arrested a fellow officer as the prime suspect. 

It happens every couple of months: a violation so offensive, so extreme, the dam containing women’s rage cracks. We are reminded that the spectrum of violence against us is short — the distance between a catcall and the end of our lives is unnervingly small. For a few days, the internet is flooded with stories from women who were similarly violated. “I believe her,” they say, “because I have been her. It happened to me, too.”

Me too. 

Men, meanwhile, are quieter. I’m not surprised. Men love protecting women from violent men but refuse to denounce that violence. What would they do without it? What is their purpose if not to protect us? But Everard’s death  — at the hands of both a man and a cop —  reminds us that we cannot seek protection from the same powers that would rather see us harmed. No one could possibly do anything to deserve her fate. No linguistic gymnastics can twist the blame back to her. 

In an attempt to keep me alive in a man’s world, my mom gave me a keychain alarm when I moved to Boston. It’s huge and pink and hanging in my kitchen. At least once a week, my mom asks me if I take it with me when I go out. Every time she asks me, I lie and say yes. 

Last week, I seriously considered adding it to my keychain for the first time. In the end, though, I don’t think it would make a difference. I’m not even sure Sharon could save me.

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