By Keziah Smith
A heartfelt vigil that was held online in memory of ex-Durham student Sarah Everard, was attended by over 200 people. Around 150 participants also gathered on Palace Green for the vigil.
The former Durham student disappeared on the night of Wednesday 3rd March on her way home from a friend’s house in Clapham to her home in Brixton in South London.
A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been arrested in connection with Ms Everard’s death, and has been charged with murder, suspected kidnap and a separate allegation of indecent exposure.
The event, named ‘Reclaim the Night: A Vigil for Sarah Everard’ was organised by Durham Womxn’s Association, It’s NOT OK, Durham, Durham University Amnesty International, and Durham Intersectional Feminist Society, and included a multitude of different speakers, including the MP for City of Durham, Mary Foy, and Durham SU President, Seun Twins.
Staff, students, and alumni, came together to make a stand against sexual abuse and gender-based violence. Speaking at the vigil, Sophie O’Sullivan, President of the Durham Womxn’s Association, said the case was “not an isolated incident.”
During the event, around 150 students gathered at Palace Green to show their solidarity to the cause and listened to the vigil through a speaker, despite the in-person vigil being cancelled following a decision by the Metropolitan Police to ban all vigils from taking place.
Covid-19 marshals arrived at the scene to supervise the gathering as some students laid down flowers and candles.
Durham Survivors, an anonymous platform working to de-normalise sexual violence, submitted a speech to be read at the vigil, saying that the death of Ms Everard “has forced us, as a society, to confront the reality of how unsafe women really are.”
“The phrase ‘Not All Men’ has been rightly recognised for what it is, a tool to diminish individual male responsibility and to absolve men of their complicity in a culture that tolerated violence against woman.”
Mary Foy, MP for the City of Durham, also spoke, proclaiming that “women should be able to walk down the streets at any time, day or night, dressed how they want, sober or drunk, and still be safe.”
“It’s men who have to change.”
The President of the SU, Seun Twins, admitted at the vigil “I am scared of men,” outlining the fear that many women live with each day and advocating a need for change.
Over the past few days, there has been a memorial at the Students’ Union for Ms Everard, and students are encouraged to light a candle or leave a message in her memory.
In October 2020, Palatinate revealed that over the last five years, 290 incidents of sexual misconduct have been disclosed to the University, and of these, 150 have been reported to official bodies to begin formal investigation procedures. Durham University has excluded only 20 students following these allegations.
The University offers only six free counselling sessions a year to students affected by sexual violence and abuse. Durham Survivors referred to this figure, saying “we must demand more from our university and communities in their support of victims.”
Image: Joe Walker