When a Women's Trauma Becomes a Statistic: The 97 Percent
The death of a marketing executive in South London sparked a movement for women women to feel safer and men to take accountability and do better.
Published April 13, 2021
The Sarah Everard Story
On March 3rd, 2021, Sarah Everard disappeared in South London. She was a thirty-three years old woman working as a marketing executive for a digital media agency. She was on her way to meet her boyfriend but never made it. Exactly one week later, Everard’s body was found. She had been kidnapped and murdered. Everard’s death has provoked a fierce alarment and grief within the women of the UK and women across the world. Many women highlighted how Sarah did everything that women are taught to do to keep themselves safe. That day, she took a path that was crowded during her walk, wore bright colored clothing, and was constantly communicating her whereabouts with her boyfriend. Her case showed that even when women are cautious and ‘do all the right things’, it doesn’t stop male predators from harassing them. Sarah’s story brought a lot of attention to the recently conducted ninety-seven percent statistic.
The 97% Statistic
Within the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the UK branch of the organization has recently conducted a study of over one thousand women living in the UK and their experience with sexual harassment in public spaces. The results showed that only three percent of women aged eighteen to twenty-four had never experienced any form of sexual harassment in public, meaning that ninety-seven percent of the women surveyed had experienced some form of sexual harassment. The sexual harassment described included but was not limited to being groped, cat-called, stared at, and being witness to indecent exposure. Additionally, ninety-five percent of women within the study shared that they did not report their experiences of sexual harassment. This statistic shocked many and began to trend on many social media platforms.
The Varied and Overwhelming Responses of the 97% Statistic
As this shocking statistic began to trend within the media, especially social media, the reactions varied. On the app Tiktok, an app that is most popular amongst teenagers from ages 10-19, many young girls and women bravely shared their experiences of sexual harassment and how being a part of the ninety-seven percent has impacted them using the ‘#97percent’ hashtag. In fact, this hashtag has now been viewed over 300M times. Thousands of women shared their support for each other and found community in shared experiences that make women feel dreadfully alone. Many boys and men gave their support and had their eyes opened through this trend as well. They shared responses such as ‘We need to do better’ and infographics about how men can make women feel more safe. However, the outpouring of support for survivors didn’t conceal the responses to the statistic that reveal the true root of the problem. While some men responded with sympathy and support, others responded with suggestions that women can prevent sexual harassment by wearing more modest clothing, by changing their ‘promiscous’ behavior, claiming that ‘it isn’t all men’, and other unproductive discourse about women’s constant struggle when it comes to feeling safe. Their responses promoted victim-blaming and took away from the fact that while it isn’t all men, it is almost every woman.
A Voice Within Our Community
I interviewed a person within our community, who prefers to stay anonymous, about their own experience with sexual harassment and how it impacts the way in which they live their life on a day to day. They bravely shared with me details about their experience and what they feel like needs to take place in order for women to feel safer within their communities. I would also like to give a trigger warning to those who feel triggered by mentions of sexual assault and mentions of suicide.
If you’re comfortable with sharing, what was your experience with sexual harassment like?
Sure, this happened to me back in middle school. I’m not comfortable saying any names and I would like to stay anonymous, but there was a guy known for harassing girls. At the time I was in a confusing relationship with him. He was manipulative, constantly told me about s**cide, made me feel guilty, and told me countless creepy things. He would constantly pressure me to kiss him. One time he just forced his lips on me after I repeatedly refused the offer. He’s touched me a few times before, my thighs, bum, he never asked to, he just did. We were not in any type of s*xual relationship, he just believed he had that power over me. Once he “playfully” choked me for more than a few seconds, and at the time I didn’t realize what he was doing was wrong.
Has he done this to other girls in the past?
He has followed girls home, made r*pe jokes to them, and uncomfortable remarks.
Did his behavior strike you as abnormal or not okay?
Not for a while, no. I liked him too much to see it and he was very manipulative. Every time he crossed a line, he would text me an apology along the lines of “you know I would never intentionally hurt you or make you uncomfortable” and I would just drop the whole thing. It took me long to realize his behavior was wrong, It was assault, and I'm not the only one. He carried whips and knives around with him, always took them out, not sure why, but he never had good intentions. I remember him telling me the reason he ghosted me once in a while was to keep me “on edge”, he liked the idea of people being vulnerable to his manipulation and abuse. To anyone who has gone through something similar in any way, I’m so sorry.
How has this experience affected the way in which you are today or how you interact with others?
My experiences with him impact me today because I feel like when it comes to any romantic relationship with a guy, I have to be extra cautious of all his behavior. I also find myself feeling vulnerable or brushing off things that happen to me that are a big deal, because I constantly tell myself they aren't because of what he used to tell me.
What changes do you believe need to be enforced for women to feel safer within their communities?
I think men are the ones who need to learn so women feel safer. Women already take precautions, it's men who need to be aware of that behavior and do better.
I thank the person I interviewed for the bravery and vulnerability they exhibited while I interviewed them. Your voice matters and it is heard and related to by many.
Where Do We Go From Here?
While Sarah Everard’s story and the ninety-seven percent statistic have educated many, there is so much more work to be done. It is not just the men who take advantage of women, who sexually harass and assault women, or men who are abusers. It’s also the men who deny the statistics, men who refuse to take accountability, men who blame victims, men who discredit the bravery it takes for a woman to speak out, and most importantly men that stay silent. Men must do the work, have the uncomfortable conversations, reflect on how they have been contributing to this problem, read the posts, read the books, and then join the fight. It is women who must be aware that their anger and hurt is completely valid and should be felt. Use these feelings to shout for the Sarah Everard’s of the world who have had their voices silenced and taken away from them. Show support for survivors everywhere and know that a woman’s right to safety isn’t something that she should have to earn, it’s simply what she deserves.
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