Sarah Everard against a background of a London street at night

‘I fear for my own life’: women reveal impact of Sarah Everard case

The kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard by police officer Wayne Couzens in March 2021 has had a big impact on the women around Clapham.

They feel angry. Terrified. Frustrated. Cautious. Sad. Unsafe. Alone.

Despite the broad media coverage of the case, the four women who shared these emotions with SW Londoner argued that women are still being blamed for male violence and sidelined by police.

When asked how she was feeling about the case, Paola Matacchioni, 33, said: “Thank you for asking. That question is only being asked by fellow women, and that really says a lot about the situation.”

Paola lives by Clapham Common, just a few minutes away from where Everard was kidnapped.

She works in marketing and moved from Milan to London to live a safer life, but said it is not the city she once knew.

Since Everard was killed, Paola has suffered anxiety and panic attacks and told SW Londoner all her anger is directed towards the police.

“I FEAR FOR MY OWN LIFE”: Paola told SWL London does not feel as safe as it used to. Credit: Paola Matacchioni

She added: “A good starting point is to acknowledge how we feel, which is frustrated and very angry. I’m very angry to know that those supposed to protect us are actually creating issues, inflicting pain.

“How dare you tell me as a woman when I should go out, when I should stay home, if I’m free to walk in a park at 9pm. We should all be free.

“I often travel the world on my own and now I fear for my own life when I walk in my local park. That can’t be right, it’s not normal, it shouldn’t be.

“I don’t think people care enough. I don’t feel men feel this situation as their burden and they are not as involved as they should be. 

“I would invite every single man to discuss this with the women in their life.”

Katie De Salis, 27, lives in Clapham Junction and walks through Clapham Common every day to get to work.

She said she was always street smart, but the details of Couzens’ “arrest” of Everard terrified her.

It emerged last week that Couzens used his police warrant card and handcuffs to make a fake arrest of Everard before putting her in the back of his rental car.

He then drove her to Kent, transferred her to his own car, raped her and strangled her with his police belt.

Couzens was sentenced to a whole life order by a judge on Thursday, a sentence Katie said he deserved.

She said: “I’ve started to feel more cautious.

“I think we need to be a bit more aware that a lot of women really have been shaken up by what’s happened.”

“THAT TERRIFIES ME”: Katie De Salis said she would have done the same as Sarah if she had been confronted by a police officer. Credit: Prithi Brinkley

She was appalled by comments made by North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott, who suggested Everard should have known not to submit to being arrested.

He said: “So women, first of all, need to be streetwise about when they can be arrested and when they can’t be arrested. She should never have been arrested and submitted to that.

“Perhaps women need to consider in terms of the legal process, to just learn a bit about that legal process.”

Katie said: “The police are there to protect you so it shouldn’t then be up to you to know what the rules are.

“I certainly wouldn’t have known, if I was in that position that night I wouldn’t have done any differently, which is the really scary thing.”

She was hesitant when asked whether she trusts the police and said: “I’d like to trust the police because that’s what they’re there for, to look after you.”

But Victoria Smart, 31, told SW Londoner that she does not feel safe around the police and she fears an investigation would not be objective.

Since the case began she has felt angry, fearful and unsafe in her neighbourhood, Balham.

She said: “What we need right now is for them to be completely transparent and admit that the system isn’t good enough.

“There is no way I would walk anywhere at night, anywhere near a park. And I’m lucky I can afford an Uber.

“I share my location even for a ten minute walk.”

VICTORIA SMART: “I share my location even for a ten minute walk.” Credit: Victoria Smart

Victoria echoed all of the women by saying she now takes more precautions when alone at night: “You always text if you’re not going to be in. You let someone know where you are at all times.”

Victoria expressed anger about the number of women who are victims of male violence and do not receive justice or recognition, such as victims of domestic violence or those from minority backgrounds.

She said: “Sarah’s case brought up the issue that ‘she did everything right’.

“That shouldn’t be the case. By even thinking that, by giving her more air time than others we’re still victim blaming.

“The idea that it’s again on the victim to make sure that they don’t become a victim, that doesn’t sit right.”

She told SW Londoner she could not think of a single female friend who has not suffered an incident of sexual assault.

All four women said the Metropolitan Police has not done enough to reassure women they are safe since Everard was killed, or that the force is not systematically misogynistic, as has been alleged by several former police officers this week.

Anjali Frank, 52, said: “It’s been over a year since she was murdered and nothing has changed.

“How much longer are people going to put up with the same rhetoric?

“It seems like men can do whatever they like and nothing will ever happen to them. 

“Violence against women is an epidemic among men and among the establishment and they need to sort it out before someone else’s child gets killed.

“I’m fuming. I’m not going to risk my child, no way!”

Anjali lives with her two daughters, aged 20 and 23, and is fearful of the police and the impact male violence could have on them. 

She believes women of colour such as herself should protest to ensure their voices are heard.

Last week, the Metropolitan Police issued guidance to women stopped by a lone officer last week that included flagging down a bus, shouting at a passer-by, running into a house or knocking on a door.

Paola said: “It’s appalling.

“Do you really think that’s going to solve the problem? I was shocked.”

Anjali added: “It’s absolutely absurd.”

Victoria criticised the advice as counter-intuitive: “The idea that you should run away if you feel threatened by an officer is kind of ridiculous. It’s absolutely laughable.”

They all called for stronger vetting processes for new officers, a greater female presence and diversity in the force and clearer communication and reporting procedures. 

A Met Police spokesperson told SW Londoner: “Tackling violence against women and girls is an absolute priority for the Met. 

“Every day our officers are working with partners across the Capital to improve safety in our public spaces and to tackle violence against women and girls.

“We wholeheartedly agree that women should not have to change their behaviour and should be able to go about their business, feeling safe, any time of day or night.

“These appalling crimes have no place in our society.  We are determined to bring the perpetrators to justice, while improving safety for everyone in London.

“Everyone should be free to their lives free of the fear of violence.”

Paola, Katie, Victoria and Anjali praised the Wandsworth Angels, an organisation founded after Everard’s death to help women unite and make the borough a safer place.

WANDSWORTH ANGELS: The group was founded to try and make Wandsworth a safer borough after Sarah Everard’s murder. Credit: Wandsworth Angels

Katie described struggling to reconcile her fears of male violence with her knowledge that not all men are dangerous, something which was helped by self-defence classes run by Wandsworth Angels.

All four women have benefited from its sense of community and are hopeful change can come out of Ms Everard’s tragic death.

Victoria and Paola praised women for discussing violence more openly since the case began.

Anjali said: “Let’s stop being frightened of change and let’s just do it.”

Paola said: “The only positive thing to come out of this was I felt the need, like many of my friends and other women in the area, to come together. I found comfort in Wandsworth Angels.”

Feature image: Picasa, cut out: Metropolitan Police

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