Teacher Sabina Nessa was on a “less than five-minute walk” through Cator Park in Kidbrooke, South East London, at around 8.30pm last Friday. According to the Metropolitan Police, she was on her way to meet a friend at a pub.
But she never got there.
The 28-year-old’s body was found near the OneSpace community centre in the park on Saturday evening. A post-mortem examination into the cause of her death was inconclusive, and a 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of murder and is currently being questioned. A second man in his 40s has been released pending further investigation
It’s important to say we don’t yet know what happened, or who murdered Sabina. But the response to her murder has been the same old story.
Since Sabina’s death, information sheets advising women on ‘how to stay safe a night’ have reportedly been handed out by a community group in the area. Printed from the Met Police website, the advice includes suggestions that women should ‘avoid walking’, but if they have to, stick to busy places and familiar environments with CCTV or good lighting.
Yet Sabina was in a familiar place. She was very close to her home. She was also in a public place. The police, while appealing for information, said at the time she was killed, the park was “likely being used by many people from dog walkers to joggers”, and her body was found by a facility “used by lots of people”. So Sabina was surrounded by people. The police think she was attacked at approximately 8.30pm. So it wasn’t late at night. What do we blame now?
The response to the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard earlier this year by a serving Metropolitan Police officer was painted as a watershed moment for women. A renewed focus was drawn to the everyday dangers women face, whether that’s on the streets, or in their own homes (statistically, women are more likely to be killed by their current or former partner or a family member than a stranger).
Yet six months on from Sarah Everard’s death, 77 women have been murdered where a man is the principal suspect. If almost all violence against women and girls is perpetrated by men, why is the onus not urgently and immediately on men to change their behaviour?
Too often, violence against women is framed as being committed by a few ‘bad apples’, avoiding the collective responsibility of all men to educate themselves, and the men and boys closest to them, on the epidemic of violence women, and other minorities, face daily.
All men need to take up the responsibility to teach young boys that that tolerance of behaviours such as rape ‘jokes’, locker room banter, catcalling or unsolicited dick pics leads to a culture that supports or excuses behaviours like groping, victim blaming and rape.
We need to understand that someone who rapes or murders a woman rarely starts off with that as their first crime, so funding for deterrence and deradicalisation is key.
A proper monitoring system needs to be put in place for dangerous offenders so patterns of abuse can be found, and women feel more faith in reporting cases to the justice system.
A school sex and relationships curriculum that centres the importance of consent and equality should be implemented.
And, perhaps most immediately necessary, is a reframing of language.
Male agency is routinely removed from descriptions of male violence. What if we changed the way we speak, report on and think about violence against women?
“Violence against women” becomes “violence by men”.
“Concerns for women’s safety” becomes “concerns about men’s violence”.
“Women experience sexual harassment in public” becomes “men sexually harass women in public”
I, like Sabina, am a 28-year-old South Asian Londoner. I keep thinking – it could have been me who was killed. But instead, I’m saying – it could be your brother, your father, your uncle, your boyfriend, your neighbour – who killed.