Another murder of a woman in London intensifies calls for safer streets
By Megan Specia
The name of the murdered young woman was slowly intoned by the crowd who gathered in the southeast London neighborhood Friday evening: Sabina Nessa. Sabina Nessa. Sabina Nessa.
Nessa, a 28-year-old elementary schoolteacher, was slain in a nearby park last week. And her death has reignited outrage over violence against women in Britain and raised questions about whether enough is being done to ensure their safety.
At the vigil Friday night, mothers held their daughters. Friends linked arms. Again a young woman had been killed. Again a community mourned.
“It’s very close to home,” said Sarah Brown, 43, who attended the vigil Friday night with her 3-year-old daughter. “I am hoping it’s going to be a safer place by the time that she’s Sabina’s age and she’ll just be able to walk home. Five minutes, you just wouldn’t think.”
Nessa left her home in the Kidbrooke district of southeast London at 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 to meet a friend at a pub nearby, a route that should have taken just five minutes.
But she never arrived. A passerby found her body in a nearby park the next afternoon. The police have not made public how she was killed.
On Thursday, London police arrested a suspect in her killing. But women’s rights advocates say the streets are no safer despite months of promises from law-enforcement officials and the government.
The vigil for Nessa had echoes of similar scenes that played out just six months ago after the death of Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive who was abducted and murdered elsewhere in London.
Everard’s death set off widespread protests, an outpouring from women who shared their experiences of violence, and demands for reform. Those demonstrations, in the midst of a national pandemic lockdown, spilled over into broader protests denouncing the heavy-handed policing of an early vigil for Everard.
But many say little has changed in the months between the two killings, both of which took place during the evening in relatively public parts of London.
Activists have called not just for increased policing, but for an overhaul of the criminal justice system that would ensure steeper penalties for gender-based violence and a focus on early education on the issue.
Aisha K. Gill, a professor of criminology at the University of Roehampton, said, “How many more women have to die before there is a real sense of action and systemic change, and a response to the way the system is failing victims of violence at every single level?” She added that cases involving women of color had not led to the same level of public anger as those involving white women.
“Countless women of color have died during this epidemic of violence against women,” she said.
The Metropolitan Police said Thursday that a 38-year-old man had been arrested on suspicion of murder in Nessa’s killing. They released closed-circuit television images of another man and a vehicle they said could be connected to the case, issuing an appeal to the public for information.
At the vigil Friday night, women carried signs listing the names of those killed by men over the past year. Community groups passed out personal alarms and leaflets about street safety. Dozens laid flowers in the nearby park where Nessa’s body was found.
Her sister, Jebina Yasmin Islam, broke down in tears as she addressed the crowd, thanking them for their support.
“We have lost an amazing, caring, and beautiful sister, who left this world far too early,” she said. “No family should have to go through what we went through.”
Nessa, who was one of four sisters, had been a teacher at Rushey Green school in Catford, in southeast London, for two years. The school’s head teacher, Lisa Williams, called her a “brilliant teacher” in a statement.
“She had so much life ahead of her and so much more to give,” Williams said.
Juliette Best, whose grandson attends the same school, said the community had been rattled by Nessa’s killing. The children were told of her death during an assembly Tuesday morning.
“Something has to be done,” Best said. “Women are not safe on the street.”
So far this year, at least 108 women in Britain have been killed in cases where a man is considered the principal suspect, according to Counting Dead Women, a project that monitors a grim trend that has come to be termed “femicide.”
In addition, cases of deadly domestic abuse surged during a series of national lockdowns. And a national survey this summer showed that two out of three women ages 16-34 experienced some form of harassment in the previous 12 months.
Speaking in Parliament earlier this week, Janet Daby, an opposition Labour lawmaker who represents an area next to the one where Nessa was killed, demanded new measures from the government.
“Her life was brutally taken, like so many before her, through misogynistic violence,” Daby said. “How many women’s lives must be stolen before this government takes serious action?”
The government did announce a new strategy this summer for tackling violence against women and girls, which included harsher penalties for offenders and increased policing of public spaces.
But a report from an independent watchdog group called for a “radical change of approach across the whole system involving the police, criminal justice system, local authorities, health and education.” Zoë Billingham, a member of the watchdog group, said, “We can’t just police our way out of this.”