The suspected murder of marketing manager Sarah Everard in London is a devastating reminder of the “national scandal” of violence against women in the UK, campaigners said on Thursday.
A serving Metropolitan Police officer is in detention and being questioned over the disappearance of the 33-year-old after authorities confirmed human remains had been found in woodland.
PC Wayne Couzens, 48, was arrested on Tuesday at his home in Deal, Kent, south-east England, on suspicion of kidnapping Everard, who vanished after leaving a friend's house in south London on March 3.
Campaigners said that violence against women in the UK needed urgent attention.Women shared details about what they do to feel safe when out alone at night, including pretending to phone someone and crossing the street to avoid groups of men. Others recounted decades of public harassment by men since they were schoolgirls.
Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley and shadow minister for domestic violence, said Everard's suspected murder was a "wake-up call" to crimes perpetrated by men against women.
"The reality is it's not a rare crime. Since last week, since Sarah went missing, six women and a little girl have been reported as being killed at the hands of men," she told BBC's Radio 4 Today programme.
“The message this should be sending out is not one about what women should or shouldn’t do – it is about how serious violence against women and girls is, and how it is an epidemic that we have to put far, far more attention and resource into.”
According to the Femicide Census, which tracks violence against women, at least 1,425 women were killed by men in the UK between 2009 and 2018.
Ms Phillips suggested that the issue would be taken more seriously if the same number of men were killed each year by women.
“There would be a national scandal, but when it’s women’s lives they matter less,” she said.
Maya Tutton, the co-founder of anti-harassment group Our Streets Now, said the issue did not receive the attention it deserved.
“That’s why we set up the campaign because we were so angry, frustrated and at the end of our tether with violence against women and girls never being the priority, never being the issue we put money and resources and time and effort into tackling,” Ms Tutton said.
Feminist campaigner Julie Bindel, who in 1979 was followed home by a man matching serial killer Peter Sutcliffe's description, asked: "Why do we not have more campaigns led by men to end men's violence?"
A vigil highlighting women's safety on the streets will be held in Clapham, near where Everard was last seen.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "shocked and deeply saddened" by the developments in the Sarah Everard investigation.
"Like the whole country my thoughts are with her family and friends," Mr Johnson said. "We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime."
PC Couzens served in the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command. He was responsible for uniformed patrolling of diplomatic premises – including Downing Street and the Palace of Westminster, as well as foreign embassies in London. He was off duty at the time of Everard's disappearance.
The Met Police said the officer was also being held on a separate allegation of suspected indecent exposure.
A woman in her 30s was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender.
It was said that the breakthrough in the investigation came from information obtained from a CCTV camera fixed to a London bus that was travelling along the route where Everard disappeared.
Hundreds of officers have been drafted in to help with the investigation as searches continue in south London and Kent.
The former Durham University student, who is originally from York, was last seen wearing a green rain jacket, navy blue trousers with a white diamond pattern, and turquoise and orange trainers.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said: “I can only imagine the pain and terrible agonies that Sarah Everard’s family and friends are going through right now. My thoughts and prayers are with them."
“All women and girls should be able to feel safe on the streets of London at all times,” he said.
The Met said it had received more than 120 calls from the public and had visited 750 homes in the Kent area as part of the investigation.
On Wednesday night, the force referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct over the actions of police after Everard was first reported missing.
Everard had been at a friend's house in Clapham on the evening of March 3. At 9pm, she left the property in Leathwaite Road through a back gate on to the A205 South Circular road and began on foot to make her way to her home in Brixton.
She is thought to have walked across Clapham Common – a large park that is poorly lit at night – and was expected to arrive home about 50 minutes later.
After she left her friend's house, she was seen alone on security footage on the A205 Poynders Road, from the junction with Cavendish Road in the direction of Tulse Hill.
The search was focused on the Poynders Court housing complex, where forensics officers were at work.
Sniffer dogs were used to search the nearby Oaklands Estate and gardens in surrounding streets, while other officers were lifting covers and searching drains along the A205.