Warning: The following contains disturbing descriptions of violence. Reader discretion is advised.
On the night of March 3, 2021, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by an off-duty police officer Wayne Couzens. Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, was walking home in South London after visiting a friend when Couzens, of the Metropolitan Police, arrested her in front of witnesses, falsely claiming she had violated COVID-19 regulations.
After he handcuffed Everard and placed her in the backseat of his vehicle, Couzens drove to a woodland area where he assaulted and strangled her with his police belt. Then, in a final act of brutality, he returned the following day with a container of gasoline and burned Everard’s body. He would return to the woodland area two more times—once on his own to bag and hide Everard’s remains, and then again days later on a daytrip with his wife and children.
The last-known video image of Everard shows her wearing bright clothing and sneakers, walking along the busy South London streets. She had even called her boyfriend on that last walk home before Couzens handcuffed her.
She would never be seen alive again.
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Couzens’ Colleagues Called Him ‘The Rapist’
Couzens, 48 at the time of the murder, is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole–or what is referred to as a whole life order in London and Wales—at HM Prison Frankland in County Durham. In February 2022 Couzens reportedly became sick with COVID while in prison.
Couzens had been serving as a police constable and firearms officer when he used his warrant card, claims of Covid lockdown violations and a false arrest to lure Everard to her death.
While Couzens had been formally vetted during his 2018 recruitment into the police force, there had been warning signs of inappropriate behavior. Former colleagues at the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a police force task tasked with protecting nuclear sites and materials in England and Scotland, testified during his murder trial that they’d nicknamed Couzens “The Rapist” three years before the Metropolitan Police hired him. They reportedly gave him the nickname because he made his female colleagues feel uncomfortable.
The BBC also reported that Couzens was facing two indecent exposure allegations from incidents in which he was accused of exposing himself to women at fast-food restaurants just days before he murdered Everard.
In the days after Everard disappeared, investigators visited about 750 homes, viewed various security camera footage and received over 120 calls from the public.
Everard’s remains were discovered on March 10, 2021, just over 50 miles from where she was last sighted on security cameras. As news spread about the high-profile case, thousands of women across the United Kingdom began expressing their frustration and grief on social media and sharing why Everard’s murder hit so close to home.
The Hashtag: #TextMeWhenYouGetHome
In response to advice from the Metropolitan Police to women, such as “don’t use earphones or handheld devices” when you’re out at night alone, women started using the #TextMeWhenYouGetHome and #ReclaimTheseStreets hashtags on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, demanding the narrative shift from victim-blaming to holding male perpetrators accountable for violent acts.
Fitness expert Lucy Mountain went viral when she created the #TextMeWhenYouGetHome hashtag on Instagram, uniting women worldwide in the shared experience of checking in on one another, and the fear women feel for themselves and their friends when walking alone in public.
Hyper-vigilance about personal safety while walking alone wasn’t a new phenomenon since Everard’s murder; instead, the movement showcased that violence against women–and checking in on one another—was already a grim reality.
Scottish actress Ishbel Cumming, 24, created a short film in response to Everard’s murder with the help of her friend, James Murray. The two-minute video, named in honor of the hashtag, showcases a frantic Cumming walking the dark London streets as she performs a series of threat assessments:
Should she cross the street if she sees someone coming?
Are her keys in her hand?
Why did her grandfather gift her a rape whistle when she was just 10 years old?
“I certainly knew how many precautions we must take as women to stay safe, but the event really highlighted just how tragic it is that we can’t walk home…without fear,” Cumming tells A&E True Crime. “It is so backward and unfair.”
Her father, Ian Cumming, says that while he was proud of his daughter, he was shocked to learn that common-place harassment and the genuine threat of violence were daily concerns for women.
“Our mums, wives, sisters and daughters have a right to expect better,” he tells A&E True Crime. “As men, we’ve got to do better.”
Reclaim These Streets
Everard’s murder also sparked an online debate about police response to a peaceful vigil organized by Reclaim These Streets.
Jamie Klingler, a Philadelphia native living in the U.K., is an organizer and founder of the activist movement. She claims the Metropolitan Police tried to stop the Reclaim These Streets event and forcibly handled and arrested women during the event.
“[The vigil] was for Sarah and all women affected by violence,” Klinger tells A&E True Crime. “The police should have been standing in solidarity with us. Instead, they tried to silence us.”
Reclaim These Streets took the Metropolitan Police to High Court over their right to demonstrate peacefully. One year after the vigil, the high court ruled in favor of the protestors.
The organization’s site states its aim is to use “legislation, education, and community action to ensure no woman has to be asked to ‘Text Me When You Get Home’ again.”
But does Klingler think Everard would be any safer walking home now than she had been on March 3, 2021? Klingler didn’t miss a beat.
“No,” she says, “because nothing has materially changed since that night.”
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