“Where is the uproar? Where is the outrage and pouring of despair? Where are the vigils and protests?”
Those were the words of Sam Griffin, cousin of Julia James, the Police Community Support Officer brutally killed last month. And good questions they are too. Why was the sense of public sadness and anger following Sarah Everard’s horrific murder so much more visceral than that which has followed Julia James’ equally tragic death?
There are no definite – nor easy – answers. A few weeks ago, I was privileged (and a touch intimidated) to be part of a panel convened by Edelman to discuss the role of male allyship in addressing the problems, risks and prejudices that women continue to face in modern society. The views shared by my fellow panel members and colleagues around the business were fascinating, wise and diverse.
Such conversations are a vital component of change. And, pleasingly, they’re also something Edelman is no stranger to having, both within our own four walls and on behalf of our clients. I’ve worked here for 11 years now and one of the reasons is the firm’s willingness to confront difficult issues affecting society – from the #MeToo movement to climate change to the tragic murder of George Floyd exactly one year ago today.
But, even so, there was no Edelman panel event planned in the aftermath of Julia James’ murder. And in society more broadly, there have been no nationwide protests. No collective demand for action.
As I said, understanding why isn’t straightforward. Speculation is the best we – or certainly I – can offer. Both women were doing nothing out of the ordinary. Neither had taken any undue risks. And besides, who cares if they had? They still had every right to go about whatever they were doing without fear of attack.
Is the fact Sarah Everard allegedly fell victim to a serving police officer the reason her case received such heightened focus? Possibly. Is it because it happened in the midst of yet another national lockdown? Maybe. Is it due to her being a pretty, young, white woman? Probably. Does it emphasise yet again the power of the media – and by proxy the communications industry – in influencing the strength of public sentiment. Undoubtedly.
Asking these questions is not to diminish the horror of what happened to Sarah Everard – nor stymy the crucial debate it’s provoked about every woman’s right to feel safe and unmolested while going about their daily lives. Her death was heinous, senseless and an assault on the values at the heart of our society.
But so too was Julia James’. So was Gedeon Ngwendema’s, the 21-year-old man stabbed outside Brent Cross Shopping Centre earlier this month. So were those of the 20 other women that, according to the Counting Dead Women project, were violently killed in the UK between the murders of Sarah Everard and Julia James. And so too will the deaths of all the people who suffer the same fate in future.
The deep-rooted societal changes required to solve this problem will take time, determination and a great deal of action. Individually and collectively we must all bear responsibility for making them. Long-entrenched behaviours and beliefs must be challenged and recalibrated. While brands, businesses, governments and media platforms with the widest reach and loudest voices should lead the way.
It’s a well-trodden truism of the pandemic that no one is safe until everyone is safe. That goes for victims of violence too. No single case deserves more attention, grief or fury than another. No person more deserves the right to feel secure, respected and fairly treated than anyone else. And every loss leaves the same void and warrants the same legacy. Just as in life, the very least we owe Julia James in death is equality and justice.