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Sabina Nessa vigil: Thousands gather across the country to honour teacher

Vigils will be held in UK cities in tribute to Sabina Nessa, amid calls for government action to end violence against women and girls.

Thousands of people across the country gathered on Friday night for vigils honouring Sabina Nessa, the 28-year-old teacher killed on her way to meet a friend in London.

The primary school teacher was attacked after leaving her home in Kidbrooke on Friday evening last week. Police believe she may have been killed by a stranger as she walked through Cator Park, where her body was found at 5.30pm the following day.

A 38-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of her murder on Thursday evening.

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said Nessa’s death was devastating.

“It is appalling that she was yet another woman who could not safely walk home,” she said.

“Women should be safe wherever they are, at home and in public, and this requires a whole system approach by the UK government.”

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Violence against women and girls is not yet treated with the “gravity and importance it deserves”, Nazeer added. 

“It should be of the highest priority that perpetrators of violence are taken seriously as a danger to women. They must be kept off the streets, with sentencing reflecting the severity of the crime and repeat offenders identified and monitored.”

Nazeer added that the treatment of Nessa’s death “has not been on the same level as others”.

“Time and time again we see how victims from Black and minoritised communities do not receive the same level of attention and support,” she said.

Experts campaigning to end violence against women and girls have long demanded a joined-up government approach to making streets safer for women. These calls ramped up after a number of recent murders in the capital, including sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in Wembley last June.

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Earlier this year 33-year-old Sarah Everard was murdered by Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens in south London. The police response to a vigil held in her memory at Clapham Common was condemned as disproportionate and heavy-handed after four arrests were made.

A vigil organised by family and friends of Nessa was held at 7pm on Friday in Kidbrooke’s Pegler Square.

A number of other events also took place across the country, including in Brighton and Cardiff. Those who could not attend were encouraged to light a candle on their doorsteps.

Tributes were paid to the “brilliant” and “caring” teacher, who worked at Rushey Green Primary in Lewisham.

“We’re so tired and we’re so angry,” Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets (RTS), told the BBC. This woman was outside for five minutes going to meet her friend. Her family will be devastated forever because of this action.”

There is an “epidemic of violence unfolding in front of our eyes”, an RTS spokesperson said in a statement, calling for criminal justice reforms which do more to keep women safe. “All we are getting from the government are empty words and reports.”

Greenwich Council has given out more than 200 personal alarms to women in the area since the body of Sabina Nessa was discovered, while new guidance encouraged women to stay in well-lit spaces outdoors, face oncoming traffic when walking and hide their jewellery.

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The advice drew criticism from some who believed women were being told to change their behaviour to avoid violence instead of action being taken to stop the perpetrators.

“We need to stop putting the burden of staying safe on women,” the RTS spokesperson said.

“This is not a women’s issue, it is everyone’s responsibility.” 

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said violence against women should be treated with the same importance as counter-terrorism.

It is “really important that people like me, who have not had to live the experiences of women and girls, listen to the experience of women and girls and work with them to have policies that address this awful issue,” he said.

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