Learning from the Sarah Everard tragedy

Following the news last week of Wayne Couzens’ life sentence for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard, a widespread debate has arisen over who is to blame for crimes like this and how they might be prevented.

Alongside calls for politicians and the police to do more to prevent it ever happening again, there has also been a strong backlash against police officers telling women to be more ‘streetwise’. Most comments on social media either blame the police (and there are important questions to ask of their role), or make a point about ‘low level’ intimidation and harassment suffered by women in many different contexts.

So does this case, however exceptional, point to policing failures or cultural trends that somehow give permission for people like Couzens to go undetected?

We acknowledge that the Sarah Everard case is an appalling and tragic story of a man committing a horrific crime for which he is fully responsible. As Christians we need to be the first to acknowledge evil and speak up for any group that is being harassed. We want justice and compassion for those affected.

However, it is also worth asking whether the sexual revolution of the past few decades, although promising liberation for women, has actually led them into more danger. Sexual liberation, along with the normalisation of pornography, has stimulated a desire for (and expectation of) the possibility of sex with anyone, however casual the relationship. These are likely to be significant factors in creating a climate in which sexual harassment has become pervasive.  

Although the Sarah Everard case may be exceptional, it fits into a disturbing pattern in a society that now has a consumerists attitude to sex as something recreational and purely for selfish pleasure. It has become the petri dish in which corrupt and sometimes despicable behaviour develops. So if in response we only tinker at the margins of our human behaviour, we will not get to the roots of the problem.

We need to dig deeper; there is more going on here than just evil actions or a faulty system.

As Christians, we recognise that all our behaviour issues from hearts corrupted by sin. The Sarah Everard case is one exceptionally distressing example of something that exists in embryonic form in every heart. At its root it is a desire to break free from God’s wise and loving boundaries for us.

The predictable response to this present news story is that as a society we try to rid ourselves of some of the consequences of sin, but do not get at the heart of the matter. While more does need to be done by those in power to prevent crime, we also need to start looking within ourselves where the root of such horror lurks.

It is most clearly understood when we consider what Jesus had to do to deal with this heart-sickness. At the cross he took on the punishment our sin deserves, freeing those who trust in him so that we may live lives devoted to God, now and forever. God promises to work in the Christian’s heart to make us more like Jesus, increasing our hatred of sin and our love of what is right, and helping us to live in the holy way he commands.

Therefore, the Sarah Everard tragedy should lead us to hate sin in all its manifestations, and yet also praise God that he has not left us without hope for us and our sad world. The cross of Jesus spells hope for us all.

Dan Allen is a Ministry Trainee at Christ Church Fulwood

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