The murder of 27-year old teacher Catherine Webb in London has caused many women to worry that they could have been the victim. After reading about her death, one woman told reporters It is so scary because it could have been me.
This blog post will explore the feelings of fear and anger that are being felt by these women following this brutal attack. But most importantly, the post will argue that these same emotions are being reported by women across the world in countless similar cases.
When police found Webb she was so brutally beaten and disfigured that they could not even identify her face for several days. This attack shook the local community of Twickenham and caused women across the world to worry about their safety. This is not surprising; it’s very common for violent attacks such as this one to make people feel unsafe in their own communities and even to make them believe that such acts of violence could happen to them. However, I’m arguing here that we need to take these emotions seriously and start listening to these women’s experiences.
Stories like this one might be the only times that the media and society at large do take notice of violence against women and how it affects them, but we need to realize that every day women across the world face similar issues, and we must start looking into their respective stories before it’s too late.Because while these reports of fear and anger are frequently used in relation to male-perpetrated violence, the majority of female victims do not get any coverage at all.
I am currently doing my PhD on experiences of sexual assault reporting within a UK Police Force area. It is based on experiences of over 250 women over the last 10 years. It examines how women who report sexual assault are treated within this Police Force area, and what experiences they go through before, during and after reporting. But crucially, it looks into what happens when these reports are not upheld by the police.
I can tell you is that these women go through a series of emotions, just as Catherine Webb’s former students have been doing over the last week.
In fact, the majority of female victims do not report their experiences at all for a number of reasons. Some are scared they will be disbelieved and others fear being blamed for what has happened to them. Many are scared of inaction on the part of the police, with others being skeptical that anything will change. Additionally, many fear being asked about their previous sexual history or facing stigma in their local community – even though most know this won’t be a question they’ll face in court.
As I have explained in previous posts, women who do go through this system are even more likely to be let down.
Despite the fact that rape is one of the most underreported crimes in England and Wales, 63% of reports are not investigated by police officers. But it’s not just about the investigation process; the majority of these cases also do not make it to court. After studying around 4,000 cases of rape reports over the last three years, I found that only around 15-20% ended up in court. Out of these, it is estimated that one third will end in a conviction.
However, what researchers have also found is that most women don’t see reporting or court as the end of their ordeal. For some, the system results in them being revictimised due to poor responses from police officers or even by seeing their rapist walk free. Others are left without any form of closure because they are not informed about the court case progress. We know this because women who go through these experiences always report feeling let