Six months on from the murder of Sarah Everard, is change coming fast enough?

Watch ITV News journalist Natalia Jorquera's report on a watershed moment and what's changed since

It felt like a watershed moment. The abduction, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Metropolitan police officer started a movement. 

A cocktail of anger and grief saw thousands take to the streets and social media to share their daily experiences of harassment, fear and threat. In response, organisations like Reclaim These Streets, were born.

"We felt that we needed to take back, take back control of our, of our public spaces, our park and our streets," says Anna Birley, co-founder Reclaim These Streets.

The reaction to Sarah Everard's horrific murder shone a spotlight onto violence against women.

Ms Everard's mother said her daughter's death "leaves a yawning chasm in our lives that cannot be filled" Credit: Met Police

The UK government responded by laying out a plan to improve safety. But six months on, is change coming fast enough? 

ITV News can reveal since Sarah went missing, 77 women have been murdered where a man is the principal suspect.

It brings the total so far this year to 105, according to Counting Dead Women – a group that tracks femicide in the UK.  

Tracking those statistics, Karen Ingala-Smith the co-founder of the Femicide Census and Counting Dead Women believe that number will grow by the end of the year.

"There are 37 women who are going to be killed violently before the end of the year. Many of them know now that their life is at risk, many of them are in fear of being killed," she said.

Rape cases

It’s not just femicide where the statistics are shocking, recent figures show 2020 saw the lowest number of rape convictions ever recorded. 

Just 3% of reported rapes ended in a conviction. So why has it been so low? 

Anna Birley from Reclaim These Streets believes it is partly due to the process that a person has to go through even before they can get to court."The evidence of burden is on the woman," Ms Birley says.

"You have to demonstrate that consent wasn't given and the gathering of evidence is this awful intrusive thing."Campaigners say that these statistics underline an ongoing failure to protect women.

The pressure remains on the government to act, but in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death they did announce a range of measures.  In an attempt to improve safety for women and girls, the government promised better lighting, more CCTV, an online tool that people can record areas where they feel unsafe, a new violence against women police chief, and undercover police officers in bars. MP Caroline Nokes chairs the women and equalities select committee, she says the initial proposals were misguided.  "The solutions can't be absolutely cannot be stick to well lit areas. Don't walk alone. That absolutely is blaming the victim for what has happened to her." 

Protester at Sarah Everard vigil

In July the government also announced its Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy with the ambition to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice, but Ms Noakes doesn't believe this is the correct focus.

"Somebody who rapes and murders doesn't start off with that as their first crime and so we need to not spend our time focusing on stronger sentences for those who've committed the very serious, the most awful crimes, but actually let's look at the deterrence along the path to that."Campaigners like Andrea Simon, the chief executive of End Violence Against Women Coalition doesn’t believe the amount of funding the government is putting forward will be able meet the change that have promised. "Numbers of women coming forward to report are at all time highs, but we are still declining in terms of prosecutions," she says.

"We've seen an apology for the appallingly low rate of rape convictions and prosecutions, but actually in the last six months, very little materially has changed." 

Signs at women's protest march

As well as the new Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, this year the government introduced the Domestic Abuse Bill

In it, the landmark piece of legislation included amendments such as strengthening coercive and controlling offences, revenge porn and non-fatal strangulation. 

The government says the bill will transform the response to domestic abuse, but MP Jess Phillips (who each International Women's Day in parliament, reads the names of women who have been killed by a man) says it falls short. 

"The issue of repeat offenders. There are so many of the women's names who I read out and the will be again next year, whose perpetrators that killers slipped through the system, even though in some cases they had even murdered somebody else," she says.

"We need a proper monitoring system for dangerous offenders, not just those with convictions, but with people with repeat patterns of abuse who go on to just move on to the next family and abused them. 

"Currently none of the legislation, regulation, strategies, reviews in front of parliament or the public at the moment, do anything to properly serve that."

Ms Ingala-Smith makes a further point, that neither the bill nor the strategy references the worst type of violence, killing: "It doesn't include the word femicide at all. 

"And if you're not going to do that, if it's insulting really that these women's deaths are being used to talk about the importance of a strategy, but the strategy doesn't address men's vertical violence against women."Although the majority of femicide cases (62%) are committed by men within the domestic sphere, 15% of women were killed by men they knew outside of a family or partner relationship (including friends, colleagues and flat-mates) while 8% were killed by strangers. 

Not all abuse occurs in the home, which is why Phillips is also calling for an 'end-to-end' violence against women and girls strategy.

"We need women when they're at work, not just in their homes with domestic abuse, we need women in work to be protected from sexual harassment. 

"The entire thing that we saw in the #MeToo movement, we need our streets to be safe and we need more police. And the safety of a woman in her life can not just be put down to a domestic setting." A Home Office spokesperson told ITV News: "Protecting women and girls from violence and abuse is a key priority for the government."

And said it would be delivering a "multi-million pound campaign targeting perpetrators and harmful misogynistic attitudes and educating young people about healthy relationships."

It will remain to be seen if these preventative and interventionist strategies will make change to the widespread sexism and misogynistic behaviour in the UK, because the burden shouldn't be on women having to change the way they live their lives.