Reclaim the night, as long as you’re white

The Influence Race Has on the Reaction to Gender Based Violence.

Sarah Everard’s murder sparked outrage across the nation, and rightfully so. We rallied together; protesting, posting, and pouring our hearts out to express our anger and pain over the betrayal of Sarah’s right to safety. Yet, our anger and fight fell to a slumber when news broke of Sabina Nessa, a young woman who was murdered last month.  

On 17 September at around 8:30pm, Nessa left her home in Southeast London to meet a friend at a nearby pub – a journey that should have taken five minutes. After suffering a fatal attack, her body was discovered the following day in Cator Park in Kidbrooke.

Nessa’s murder clearly illuminates stunted progress in the issue of violence against women and girls, so doesn’t this call for an even bigger outcry that our voices have been ignored? Where is the same reaction we gave to the murder of Everard? We didn’t allow anyone to escape the injustice she faced; we saturated the nation’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter feeds with our rage and demanded better for women’s safety. Yet, there was only the odd article and post to report on Nessa’s murder. 

Additionally, if you look at Google Trends, you will see a striking difference in the number of times Sarah’s name was googled after her murder in comparison to Nessa’s name being googled after her murder.  Why was there not as much coverage for her and why wasn’t she deemed worthy enough to deserve it?  

Many have argued that Everard’s and Nessa’s cases aren’t comparable. They say the reason Everard’s case gained the coverage and fury it did was because it reflected police sexism and violence, and the mistrust in the police it has fostered. Sarah’s case undeniably exposed this, however, what is irrefutable is the media’s bias against girls and women of colour. I still remember the weekly roster of ‘missing’ posters when I was growing up for different women and girls of colour, placed by their families, whose names and faces I’ve now forgotten. Journalist Gwen Ifill’s ‘missing white woman syndrome’ highlights this if we look at the case of Madeleine McCann, who needs no introduction. The government spent over £11 million looking for her; she is the world’s most famous missing girl. Can you really tell me she would be if she wasn’t white? This only goes to show that the media (and society) is obsessed with victimised white women. They are not violated women, but the perfect damsel in distress trope. While missing and/or assaulted girls and women of colour continue to repeatedly be underrepresented and silenced.  

Our hyper-obsessive focus on white, middle-class female victims of gender-based violence is a structural issue designed to normalise white privilege through implicit means.  Furthermore, it’s a reflection of the media’s and our own ‘white feminism’ and internalised racism.This isn’t about taking away from the brutally horrific tragedy that happened to Sarah Everard and the many other white girls like her. But our activism must stop being performative because we can’t all look like Sarah Everard and Maddy McCann, and so we have to fight for women and girls of colour like Sabina Nessa too. 

After all, we can’t really call ourselves activists or feminists if we only care about white women.