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Flowers at the bandstand

May 2021 | by Abi

Sarah Everard was one year older than I when her life was tragically taken in March. Raised in Battersea myself, I know Clapham Common well (the popular park where Sarah was last seen alive). Her tragic death profoundly affects me, as it has many others across the country.

Harassment of women has become a discussion point following the tragedy. Sadly, it is something that is no stranger to me. From the day I began travelling unaccompanied to secondary school as a teen, unwanted attention became a commonplace.

I have lost count of how many times I have had to run, hide, call for help, or even fight back. On two occasions my life was at risk, but thankfully God in his mercy and providence prevented my attackers from inflicting any lasting injury.

I have also been mugged, and was sexually assaulted while travelling on the London Underground. Despite arrests and police involvement, no convictions were forthcoming from these attacks.

Sadly, my story is one of many. I believe the recent outpouring of grief, anger, and the demand for justice is partly because many women feel that they themselves could easily have been in Sarah’s shoes as she walked home on the evening of 3 March.

I grappled with many emotions as the story unfolded. I felt drawn to personally visit the memorial at Clapham Common bandstand. Looking at the sea of floral tributes left for Sarah, I was reminded of the personal connection we women often experience with one another at such times.

A woman’s worth

Women in Britain today do face the challenge of being objectified and demeaned, and I believe society does not generally value and honour females in the way God intended.

In his sight, women are precious. Many females are used powerfully by the Lord throughout Scripture, and are presented as worthy of admiration and honour. Proverbs 31 is an extended tribute to the inner beauty and value of a woman of God.

This truth of the God-given worth of women lies behind such mass outpouring of grief as we have seen in connection with Sarah, even if unacknowledged. God is creator of every woman and ‘Father of us all’ in a sense. This means that when one suffers, we all suffer; we all sense the injustice of it.

What a contrast to contemporary culture. Tragically, women nowadays are often defined and valued solely in terms of their sexuality. Social media and the entertainment industry have done much to erode the biblical emphasis on women as image-bearers of God, worthy of respect for who they are inside. The focus now is on shallower concerns such as appearance and popularity.

Men versus women?

The outpouring of grief and anger should not be directed towards men wholesale or feed an ‘us versus them’ feminist agenda. What it should motivate is a concern (shared by both men and women) to make conditions better, safer, healthier.

What it can also highlight is the draining current need for women in urban areas to stay ‘street wise’. I know personally of the apprehension and fatigue that comes with feeling you have to make detours when walking home; or you have to avoid secluded areas or dark alleys; or you have to check over your shoulder if someone is behind you; or you find yourself startled if a car suddenly pulls over beside you.

I’ve always appreciated it when men in my life (father, brother, husband) have assisted me in getting home, or request and await that text message confirming that I’m safely through the front door and home safe (the kind of message which Sarah’s boyfriend never received).

Indeed, there were many men at the protests on Clapham Common because they care, and have been equally affected by this terrible news and also by other stories in their own families and social circles.

The way we live now

We live in a fallen world and the ripple effect of sin stains all aspects of our lives. The tragedy of what happened was compounded further by the fact that the culprit appears to be a police officer – someone meant to make us feel safe.

Even as a 32-year-old, it strikes me that communities are not what they used to be. We seem to live in a society increasingly given to self-gratification and secularism. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ has been replaced with ‘Ignore your neighbour and live for yourself’.

This has a knock-on effect which results in people being less likely to intervene when they see wrongdoing. This was my experience when I was mugged. I was at a bus stop surrounded by many men and women, but they simply stood and watched me struggle. No one helped.

Ultimate justice

Being at the bandstand and seeing thousands of flowers lovingly placed at its foundations with layers of cards and candles was breathtaking.

There was a palpable atmosphere of respect, mourning, and disbelief at how something so evil could happen on our doorstep.

As I meandered around the bandstand, I felt pain in my heart as I read many emotionally charged messages about Sarah, the police, and the fact that this shouldn’t have happened. Grief from so many over the death of just one innocent individual. It turned my thoughts to the Saviour – who like Jesus was so innocent, so mistreated, and yet moving the hearts of so many?

What happened to Sarah and the subsequent outcries for justice also reminded me that true, ultimate justice will only come from God: he who is the standard of justice and the one who will one day right all wrongs. True change comes through looking to him and trusting the saving, life-changing message of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As well as the ultimate recourse for justice, God is also the answer for a woman’s desire to live with freedom from fear. He is the God who is near and whose ear is open to the cries of his people. He is the God who ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:4).

Beyond the grief and gloom of the bandstand at Clapham Common, I was able to remind myself that God gives women – and all people – hope for true change through the gospel of his Son.