Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard: Both victims of a sick, sexist system– Stop victim-blaming

By Becci Heagney, Socialist Alternative (our sister organisation in England, Wales and Scotland)

Sabina Nessa, 28, was tragically murdered on 18 September. Upset and anger has once again enraged the nation. How could this have happened again? How many more women will be killed while just trying to go about their lives, going to meet a friend at a pub on a Saturday night? 

Sabina was a teacher in Lewisham. Hundreds attended a vigil and spoke out about the type of caring and funny person she was, including her colleagues and fellow National Education Union members. People across the country sent their thoughts and love, feeling on a personal level the loss of a young woman being senselessly killed. 

80 women killed

But it is more than just personal loss. Sabina was murdered just 6 months after Sarah Everard, whose death had sparked big protests across the country. In between these two tragedies, 80 women were killed in the UK. All nameless women who were murdered, usually by someone known to them such as their partner, former partner or family member. 

Women are not safe in their homes or on the streets and this is something which is brought home in a stark way by these events, the reason why people are angry and demanding change.

Police powers not the answer 

Firstly, calls for more police powers and more police officers are not only completely insensitive given the vile details of the murder of Sarah Everard, they are also completely ineffective. The majority of survivors of domestic abuse will have horror stories of how the police didn’t intervene multiple times when called, not to mention the huge psychological manipulation and abuse by perpetrators which often mean women are too scared to seek help to begin with. 

Secondly, it is completely irresponsible for Scotland Yard to simply declare “the streets are safe for women” in the wake of Sabina’s murder. They are not, and the police cannot be trusted to keep us safe. Equally laughable are suggestions that women should “flag a bus down”  or call 999 to check on a police officer if they feel unsafe. It’s an absolute indictment of the police force that people are even discussing ways to keep themselves safe if approached by an officer! 

This is, of course, not a new issue for many people. The police force in a capitalist society are not there to defend ordinary people, they are there primarily for the protection of private property and the state. There are many examples of the police being used to violently attack protests and workers’ picket lines, as well as infiltrating left-wing political groups, forming relationships with their female members as a way of spying on them. In addition, the police investigators, the so-called ‘Independent’ Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), seems to never find the police in the wrong. It was the case with undercover police officers forming relationships with people, apparently not an official policy but the actions of a few bad apples; the violent handling of the Sarah Everard vigil which the police claimed no wrong-doing; and the 17 out of every 18 police officers accused of sexual assault who never face further investigation. 

Democratic control

As Socialist Alternative has explained previously, any investigations into police conduct must be carried out by genuine independent inquiries, including representatives from the victims families, trade unions, women’s rights and anti-racist organisations, and so on. We also need democratic control over where police are deployed, how they carry out investigations, and over the hiring and firing of police officers to be able to drive out sexist, racist, homophobic and transphobic police officers. 

The murders of Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa and the other 80 women in between is not just an issue of the institution of the police. The scale of violence against women reflects just how sick capitalist society is and the urgency of fighting for real change. Socialist feminists understand that the oppression of women is part and parcel of class society, with attitudes of male power and control over women being promoted from the top but permeating throughout society. 

Police failings

These ideas are clearly very dominant within the police force itself. Wayne Couzens, the murderer of Sarah Everard, a serving police officer who used his position to falsely arrest and kidnap Sarah, was also part of a WhatsApp group with other police officers who sent each other misogynistic, homophobic and racist messages. He was reported to have carried out a number of indecent exposures, as far back as 2015, but the police never seriously investigated it, despite ‘only’ having to run a car registration number check to be able to identify him. 

These acts of sending sexist messages, making female colleagues feel uncomfortable and other behaviour are often considered to be ‘low-level’ and as such not taken seriously. However, going unchallenged in workplaces, communities and education establishments up and down the country, together they make up a society which perpetuates and reinforces problematic attitudes towards women, particularly of women’s sexuality and ideas of male entitlement. 

In an extreme way this can lead to the murder of seemingly random women on the streets, as was the case with Sarah Everard and Sabina Nessa. The murderer of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry who were killed in June 2020, Danyal Hussein, was part of a government ‘deradicalisation’ programme, believing that he needed to ‘sacrifice women’ to be successful, including that he could cast spells to make himself more attractive to women. Jake Davidson, who shot and killed 5 people in Plymouth in August, was part of the misogynistic ‘incel’ movement, which blames women for their perceived failings.

Not just bad apples

The establishment narrative around these cases is often of deranged individuals, as if they are not products of the society around them, and of victim-blaming, emphasising that women shouldn’t go out by themselves at night. This is being pushed back against by many people, who are calling for the focus to be on those who carry out violence rather than those who are victims of it. 

To achieve this in a genuine way, we need to build a mass movement of working-class and young people of all genders which can seriously challenge the deeply embedded misogynistic ideas within capitalist society. These ideas originate at the top of society, the capitalist class , who need the division, inequality and exploitation of the working class to keep themselves in their privileged positions, reflected in the dangerous ‘war on woke’ being waged by the likes of Boris Johnson. We need to fight for a socialist feminist alternative which will struggle for the end of violence against women, for safe streets for all and a society free from oppression – a socialist society.