On March 13, 2021, thousands of peaceful protesters gathered across the UK to pay their respects toSarah Everard, whose kidnap, rape, and murder by Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens sparked anger and mourning throughout the country and the globe. “If anyone ever needs any help getting home, I’ll come out and help or help get you a cab or an Uber,” announced Rachel Chung at a vigil in Edinburgh that day, accompanied by their friend and fellow University of Edinburgh student Alice Jackson. Three weeks of preparation later – adhering to Chung’s promise – the pair founded Strut Safe, an organisation determined to ensure that women, POC, and queer people in the UK return safely after their journeys home at night.
Since then, Strut Safe has operated every week on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays – usually from 7pm until 3am. While it offers free walks home at night for those in Edinburgh, the organisation is better known for its free phone service, which allows users to call on their walks home and stay on the line with a trained, background-checked volunteer for safety and support. “There’s that culture of checking in on your friends when they’re on their walks home, but what if you don’t have anyone to call or if you don’t think your friend or your partner or your mum might be awake?” Jackson, the programme’s 22-year-old co-founder and director, tells BRICKS. “When you call our number, you know someone’s going to answer, and you know that someone’s going to be there in [real] time to go through it with you.”
When you call our number, you know someone’s going to answer, and you know that someone’s going to be there in [real] time to go through it with you.
Alice Jackson, co-founder of Strut Safe
According to Jackson, Everard’s death was a watershed moment for a culture which previously condoned violence against women. “Sarah Everard’s death sparked so much outrage because people couldn’t blame her for it,” she says. “She had ‘done everything right’, even though that’s bullshit and you can’t frame things that way.” On the night of March 3, Couzens arrested the 33-year-old on the false pretence of violating COVID guidelines. She was walking home alone from a friend’s house in south London when the police officer handcuffed her, put her in his car, and drove 100 metres to Kent, where her remains were found a week later. Couzens pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison.
In an attempt to reassure the public after Everard’s death, – London’s police force delivered an “inadequate” response, suggesting that people who suspect they’re in “real and imminent danger” by police officers should call the cops on the cops, challenge plain-clothed police officers with questions, shout to a passerby, and even hail a bus to escape. Otherwise, – at a peaceful vigil for Sarah in Clapham Common, – police cited COVID restrictions as an excuse to block the event, using force and violence against mourners in an attempt to shut it down.
According to a recent report from the Femicide Census, women have been killed by at least 15 acting or former police officers in the UK since 2009. Further, a Byline Timesreport states that between 2017 and 2021, 52 per cent of the police officers who were found to have committed sexual misconduct were allowed to keep their jobs. “People don’t rely on institutions to protect them, because of their concern about abuse of power, their concern that they won’t take them seriously, their concern that nothing will be done,” says Jackson, noting that Couzens’ sentencing was not a victory. “He got what he deserved, but I find it difficult that the justice system tried championing this as a win. I don’t know anyone who would be reassured.”
Jackson also acknowledges how “missing white woman syndrome” played a role in Everard’s case – where missing person cases with white victims receive disproportionate amounts of public and media attention. She, however, emphasises that this does not minimise the tragedy of cases like Everard’s. “There’s always an intersection between misogyny and violence and racism and violence, but I think people are finally waking up to the reality of this and waking up to the idea that society does view the bodies of marginalised groups as second class, especially women of colour and trans women,” she explains, stating that intersectionality is central to Strut Safe’s mission.
Especially in the climate we’re living in right now, I think people look to grassroots organisations like Strut Safe and Sisters Uncut instead because [they] see people who care so much about these issues that they’re either putting it all on the line or they’re actually trying to do something tangible and put something practical and structural in place.
The founder continues: ”Especially in the climate we’re living in right now, I think people look to grassroots organisations like Strut Safe and Sisters Uncut instead because [they] see people who care so much about these issues that they’re either putting it all on the line or they’re actually trying to do something tangible and put something practical and structural in place.” On an average night, Strut Safe receives 30 to 40 phone calls, however – after the murder of London schoolteacher Sabina Nessa in September – they were answering one call per minute.
Last month, Strut Safe participated in the Center for Women’s Global Leadership’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, dedicating its online platform to the issue of violence against women and focusing on education and action. “Since the start of the 16 Days of Activism, six women have been murdered in the UK. That’s one woman every 2.6 days. The UK average is one woman every three days,” wrote Strut Safe in a post on Facebook, listing the names of those murdered: Amber Gibson, Claire Inglis, Ava White, Malak ‘Katy’ Adabzadeh, Pek Ying Ling, and a woman who was not yet named.
“I used to look at instances like these and say, ‘Oh my god, it could be one of us,’ but it was. Every time it was one of us. It is one of us,” says Jackson. “I don’t feel that enough has been done at this stage to address this problem.”
Since its launch, the organisation has received criticism for not providing long-term solutions to gender-based, racist, and queer violence. “I agree with [it],” says the founder, stating that the solutions of these structural, societal issues include ensuring survivors get the support they need and that all children receive adequate education on respect. “Down the line, we want to be very much part of the change and want to help reform and lobby and use the platform that we’ve been given to make a more fundamental difference.”
For now, the founders hope to get the phone number into the hands of anyone who needs it. “I feel very lucky that people trust us with their time and allow us into their world,” says Jackson. “You’re in a person’s life for 10 to 30 minutes – that’s usually how long it takes people to get home – as the person in their life that they trust the most. It’s such a privilege and a blessing, and I think that’s maybe my favourite thing.”
Apply to volunteer for Strut Safe here, and call its free phone line, 0333 335 0026, on Fridays and Saturdays from 7pm to 3am and Sundays from 7pm to 1am for support on your walk home.
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