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11th Mar 2021

Jess Phillips: I hope Sarah Everard is a watershed moment

The Labour MP and shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding stunned parliament to silence today when she read the names of women killed at the hands of men in the last year

It took Phillips over four minutes to get to the end of the list of 118 women.

The reading took place in the aftermath of the disappearance of 33 year-old Sarah Everard.

A serving Met Police officer has been arrested on suspicion of murder, and human remains were discovered by police yesterday.

Today, the police officer in question was rushed to hospital with a head injury.

Tonight, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) police watchdog launched an investigation into whether the Met  responded appropriately to an allegation of indecent exposure made against the suspect held over Everard’s disappearance.

These events have triggered an outpouring of support for Everard’s family, and also prompted women up and down the UK to share their experiences of sexual harassment and violence at the hands of men.

Phillips has been outspoken on the issue of violence against women and girls.

JOE spoke to the shadow minister after her speech in parliament today to see what she believes needs to happen next.

“It’s structural, and the government needs to do more without question,” said Phillips.

“Women have a lesser place in society, less economic advantage, less financial advantage and security and less power. 

“Fundamentally, they have less power – and that’s the absolute root.”

When it comes to legislation to tackle the issue, such as making misogyny a hate crime, or criminalising street harassment as France have, Phillips said there’s an important role for legislation to play.

“I think that both of those pieces of legislation is something that we’ve tabled a couple of times.

“I think that they are about to have their moment, that they will make a difference.”

But she added: “There is always backlash when you try and make street harassment, or misogyny, a criminal offence.

“If you try and criminalise that, the backlash you will get is ‘how on earth are we ever going to cope with it?'”

Phillips says the issue is often sidelined because the problem is so vast that politicians are too scared to begin to address it.

“The volume of violence against women and girls – the sheer scale and volume of it – makes it very, very difficult for policymakers to commit to anything,  because then you have to talk about sheer costs,” she said, expressing frustration.

“Imagine if we only gave insulin to a third of the people with diabetes and I just said: “I’m sorry”, to the other the other two third – “you can have it at the point you’re literally minutes away from dying”.

Sarah Everard "Missing - please help" sign

“That’s what we do to victims of domestic abuse; there’s lots that needs to be done.”

When asked if Phillips believed this would be a watershed moment, she painted a mixed picture.

“I can’t follow the line from the Me Too movement to any legislation that has made women safer at work – and it’s been tabled, and it’s been debated, and committees have sat on it.”

However, she did express some cautious optimism.

“I want to believe this is a galvanising moment – and it feels like it for women, it certainly does.

“It feels like another moment where we’re at another moment where men can be invited into the experience of risk assessment, you know, go to the shop and buy a pint of milk.

“But I will work every day to make it mean something without question,” she said.

“Because there’s a few things about this case that make it so alarming – everybody could imagine it being in our family.”

Tonight, Everard’s family released a statement and paid tribute to her: “Sarah was bright and beautiful – a wonderful daughter and sister.

Sarah Everard

“She was kind and thoughtful, caring and dependable.

“She always put others first and had the most amazing sense of humour.

“She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all.

We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives.”

The family also appealed for assistance.

“We are now pleading for additional help from the public,” they said in their statement.

“Please come forward and speak to the police if you have any information.

“No piece of information is too insignificant.

“Thank you.”

A vigil has been organised for Sarah Everard this Saturday in London.