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Educate the young to prevent more Everard-type cases

In Pictures: UK police crack down on vigil for Sarah Everard | United  Kingdom News | Al Jazeera
Clapham Common virgil (Image: Al-Jazeera)

A TV programme I'm currently watching is Supernanny USA, with Jo Frost. I loved the UK version when it graced our screens back in the noughties and was delighted to hear the show was revived for across the pond. For those who don't know what it is, it's about families struggling to manage their challenging children and in need of Frost's help. But of course, the children aren't 'challenging' for the sake of being challenging. They may be retaliating to traumatic experiences, such as difficult home dynamics, parents not spending enough quality time with them, or their over-consumption of activities which they're too young to take part in. In a recent episode, a child was addicted to violent video games and his parents never realised that this led him to getting restless at night and agitated during the day when he couldn't play. This could have lasted for years without the early and appropriate guidance.

Why am I going on about Supernanny? It's because through time, what we experience as children influences our attitudes through to when we become adults. We learn from the off-set how we see relationships, how we interact with other people and attitudes towards the things we like or dislike (and our reactions to how others see the same things). Of course, as adults, our perspectives do change, depending on who we interact with - but generally, our personal choices are based on what we experienced during childhood. We underestimate how important a child's mind is.

If children have experiences which traumatises them, without key interventions, no doubt they will believe that what they saw or heard was acceptable or completely normal. So if a child witnesses their parents endure an abusive relationship, the quicker they know it's abusive and it's not how to live, the quicker they're able not follow the same pattern when forming romantic relationships or friendships. Kids pick things up incredibly fast and negative memories stick probably more than positive ones. But it's important these lessons are learnt. Imagine that child, who witnesses abuse from an early age, never fully appreciating or understanding that wholesome and loving relationships do exist. Without breaking the cycle, society will pay as a result.

I reflect on this when following the horrific events surrounding Sarah Everard, a woman in her early 30s who walked home after seeing friends, to then be murdered en route. A serving Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with the murder. The officer is accused of travelling all the way from Kent to Clapham in South-West London to commit an unimaginable act of violence. As I write this, the legal case is on-going as investigators continue to piece what really happened.

I don't want to suggest that this officer - or any other perpetrator of similar crimes - have had negative childhood experiences which make them think it's acceptable to taunt, kidnap and torture a woman to death. And I don't want to read into this officer's profile which may, or may not, conclude what his motives were. But in no state of mind would anyone ever consider killing someone innocent and as stark as what we hear here, unless that person had experienced something that would make them conclude that this was something completely normal. Otherwise, why commit a crime at all?

Everard's death has been met with an outpouring of support to her and other women who've experienced similar harassment and anger at the system which allows perpetrators to act freely to harm another. One of the ways of expressing their feelings was to hold a vigil in the area where this particular crime took place, Clapham Common (socially distant vigils also took place in other UK cities). It was met by thousands who used their mobile torches as light, in remembrance of Everard and many others in her shoes. The night was later met with controversy as police clashed with some of the attendees, arresting at least four of them, making an undeniably difficult night for the Metropolitan Police. There are currently intense calls for its commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to resign.

Elsewhere, politicians are scratching their heads, looking into potential solutions that would prevent further murders from happening. One idea, suggested by Green Party peer Baroness Jones, is to impose a 6pm curfew on men. Other ideas that have turned into popular petitions include; legalising the use and possession of pepper spray in the UK and maximised lighting in Clapham Common - both petitions attracting more than 20,000 signatures.

Quick campaign wins are fine in essence, and the 6pm curfew is perhaps a step too far. But I don't feel they'll stop some people from killing innocent women. However, it's right to say that swift and effective action is needed, to prevent further deaths of this nature. Sarah Everard wouldn't have died had there been more bobbies on the beat, or if, actually, people like that serving officer didn't even think about acting in that way. The key solution is huge and requires long-term thinking, and the government can play a big part in this.

I mentioned about childhood experiences before and the importance of learning lessons. Everard's case isn't new and how some men see women in a possibly violent way won't change unless they learn about how healthy relationships between women and men can be, even if they've not seen it first-hand. There's only so much social workers or nannies can do, and for some particularly disadvantaged families, including anyone in their child's welfare is considered a big taboo.

In 1996, Tony Blair famously proclaimed that his priorities as future Prime Minister would be summed up in three words, "Education, education, education." And this should absolutely be the priority, regardless of whether these lessons happen at home or school. We're all responsible for how children (boys and girls) see the world, what's real and what's not, what's acceptable and what's not - whilst empowering them to open their minds to their own thoughts and feelings. Certainly, we can't prevent children from witnessing bad news, tragedy or atrocity, but it's about what we do afterwards that matters. Without that education, there will be more people out there who will cause serious harm on others. This solution is incredibly long-term but intervention to any form of trauma will help - so long as it's widely accepted. My hope is that it is, however action needs to be taken now before it gets out of hand.

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