Opinion: Men are silent about women’s sexual assault, and it’s terrifying

Warning: Contains descriptions of rape and sexual assault


Credit: Elizabeth Zhong

WSPN’s Meredith Prince discusses the recent movement against women’s sexual harassment and her opinion on the lack of male participation.

If you’ve been on any social media outlet over the past few days, I’m sure you’ve heard about the story of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old woman from South London, who was abducted and was murdered by a serving police officer. The scariest part? She did everything a woman is told to do when walking home alone.

Everard wore closed toed shoes in case she needed to run. She walked on streets that were well-lit. She was on the phone with her boyfriend. She wore bright clothing. Even after following all of the “rules” a woman is told to follow, she still faced the worst consequence.

Following Everard’s death, protests and criticisms erupted in the U.K. as women demanded more protection and questioned what they can do to be safe because apparently following all of the rules isn’t enough. Sure enough, the movement has spread across the globe. Women across the world are sharing their stories: they changed their routes home, crossed the road to avoid being catcalled, were careful of what they wore, held their keys tight, wore sneakers if they needed to run and even sent their location to their friends. But none of this is enough.

A recently released study, based on data that was collected from a YouGov survey of over 1,000 women commissioned in January 2021 by U.N. Women UK, revealed shocking and disturbing data. It found that 97% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces, and more than 70% of women of all ages have endured such behavior. An even more staggering number based on a study by the World Health Organization claims that across their lifetime, one in three women are subjected to physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or sexual violence from a non-partner.

Let me drill these numbers into your head: one in three women will face physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. 97% of women aged 18 to 24 have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their life in a public space. Ninety-seven. If these numbers don’t startle and deeply disturb you, then you need to re-evaluate your morals.

Now, I don’t want to sit here and ignore the fact that men face sexual assault and rape as well because their fight is just as valid. However, the statistics for women are much higher, and with the recent online firestorm caused by the Sarah Everard situation, safety is at the forefront of many women’s minds.

Oftentimes, when a woman mentions the horror of sexual assault and harassment and the fear they constantly live in, men will say “but, not all men do this.” In response, a new catchphrase has emerged and is circulating throughout social media: “Not all men, but all women,” claiming that maybe not all men commit sexual harassment or assault, but all women live in the constant fear that they will be the next victim. With the new, terrifying revelation that 97% of women will experience sexual harassment in their lifetime, it’s inevitable that all women will fear for their lives every time they have to walk alone in public.

I have been pleasantly overwhelmed by the huge wave of support on social media for Everard and other women who have faced sexual assault in their lifetime. Hundreds of women are sharing posts with advice on how to get home safely, things to avoid and how to express support for victims. However, I have also been extremely disappointed with the men in our community. I have seen only a few boys, in comparison to hundreds of girls, share posts about Everard or the staggering statistics of female sexual assault. Rarely any men have even just expressed condolences and support for the women and the fear of sexual assault. This raises the question: why are men silent?

This raises the question: why are men silent?

I think the answer is simple: men are afraid to speak up and show support because they are afraid it will damage their image. What will their best friends say if they repost a photo saying “not all men, but all women”? What backlash and jokes will they face? These questions are the exact reason why sexual harassment culture continues to thrive: because of men who will not call out their friends who refer to women with inappropriate terms, men who don’t hold their friends accountable for sexual harassment and men who make “jokes” about sexual assault.

If Everard followed all of the rules and still never came home, then what else can we do? Sure, women can come up with more rules for themselves, such as NEVER walking alone, but it’s ridiculous to fear such a terrifying thing every day of our lives. What we need is support from men, for men to be educated on what qualifies as sexual harassment and for men to call out their friends’ actions. Let this be a request for men: please call out your friend who calls that girl a slut. Please call out your friend who whistles at a girl down the street. Please call out your friend who hooked up with a girl when she was too drunk to give consent.

There are infinite ways to stick up for women, and starting a conversation about it is the bare minimum. But so far, I have seen barely any men participating in the conversation on social media. If men won’t even do the bare minimum, what else are we supposed to do? Sit around and hope things will change? We need tangible change, support and backing.

This is not a new fight or movement. This conversation has been developing for decades, yet we have still failed to make real progress. The numbers only seem to grow. Women are tired of it. I wish I could walk home at night without fearing it might be the last time I ever step outside. I wish I didn’t have to share my location with my friends whenever I am out alone. I wish I didn’t have the urge to carry a mace every time I leave my car. But that’s just how it is, because as the saying goes, “boys will be boys.” Let’s stop using that phrase as a justification for the sexualization and harassment of women. A man catcalling or following a girl down the street is not just a “boy being a boy” – it is a boy being a predator. A man groping a girl at a party is not male instinct, it is assault. Re-evaluate your behavior and what you view as just “being a boy.”

Because I am a woman, all men that I encounter could potentially be a threat. Whether it is to the extreme of rape, or even just being catcalled on the street, I fear for my safety every time I step out into a public setting. And with the extremely loud silence of men on social media, I fear that they will never stick up for women like me if they witness sexual harassment or assault. And I am certain that most women feel the exact same way. As I’ve said before, if you are a boy and are avoiding this conversation that is blowing up over social media, we see you. We know you don’t care and will continue to excuse this behavior. Your silence speaks volumes.