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Women in U.K. demand change after police officer is questioned on suspicion of killing a woman walking home

Sarah Everard vanished in south London on the night of March 3. (Metropolitan Police/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Those hoping and praying for the safety of a British woman who vanished in south London last week have taken to social media to demand change after police confirmed Wednesday that detectives investigating the case had discovered human remains and that a police officer was being questioned on suspicion of kidnapping and murder.

United in outrage and grief over the case of Sarah Everard, 33, many women are using Twitter to share their own stories of what it is like to be harassed or attacked by men — especially when traveling alone. As thousands of tweets poured in, many returned to the same refrain: “She was just walking home.”

On Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the case, adding, “We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime.” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he was thinking of Everard’s friends and family members who would be “suffering unspeakable grief.”

Metropolitan Police confirmed on March 12 that a body found in southeast English woodland belongs to Sarah Everard. (Video: UK POOL)

Speaking of their loss on Thursday evening, Everard’s family paid tribute to her, describing her as “bright and beautiful,” “thoughtful” and “dependable.”

“She was strong and principled and a shining example to us all. We are very proud of her and she brought so much joy to our lives,” they said in a statement.

Commissioner Cressida Dick, the head of the Metropolitan Police, said the force was “appalled” that one of its officers was being questioned about the marketing executive’s disappearance.

On Thursday, the officer in question received hospital treatment after suffering a head injury while in police custody.

“The suspect was taken to a hospital for treatment to a head injury sustained while in custody,” a Scotland Yard spokesperson told the British press. “He has since been discharged and returned to custody.”

Police did not give any further information on the incident.

Police have seized the officer’s car and will continue to question him. They said Wednesday that it may take “some time” to confirm the identity of the remains that were found in a wooded area in the county of Kent.

Police in south London cordoned off a housing complex on March 9, to search for 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was last seen there on March 3. (Video: The Washington Post)

Everard was last seen after leaving a friend’s house about 9:30 p.m. on March 3. Video from a doorbell camera showing her talking on the phone with her boyfriend as she made her way home is thought to be the last sighting of her, with British media reporting Thursday that the police officer may have used his work identification to lure her into a vehicle.

Everard’s name continues to trend in the United Kingdom as thousands share the ways in which they try to stay safe in their everyday lives, while walking, exercising and commuting.

The precautions vary from wearing bright colors to carrying keys to pretending to talk on the phone when feeling intimidated or threatened by men. Other women say they don’t drink too much. Others don’t wear headphones at night. Some opt for flat shoes in case they have to run from a dangerous situation.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, tweeted Thursday that “there will be few — if any — women who don’t completely understand and identify” with Sky News political correspondent Kate McCann’s Twitter thread on the issue.

Some men also began asking how they can help women feel safer on the streets.

The campaign for men to change their behavior and for authorities to better protect women came as the organization U.N. Women United Kingdom released new data showing that 97 percent of British women between the ages of 18 and 24 have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces. About 45 percent of women surveyed expressed a lack of trust in authorities, saying they didn’t think that reporting the harassment would lead to change.

In some cities around the world, nearly 9 in 10 women report feeling unsafe in public spaces, the report found.

“Walking is the only freedom that we have right now and Sarah Everard’s disappearance has shown that women can’t even enjoy that safely,” one Twitter user wrote, referring to coronavirus restrictions.

“ ‘Sarah Everard shouldn’t have walked alone at night’ — So when I got sexually assaulted at 9am on my morning commute, should I not have gone to work? Being a woman is constant worry for your safety — dropping pins, keys between fingers, on high alert always — it’s exhausting,” journalist Helena Wadia tweeted.

On Wednesday, British media reported that police in the area had warned residents “not to go out alone.” The advice sparked fury, with many arguing that it was in fact men who should stay home.

Many lawmakers across the United Kingdom also took to social media to echo and amplify the voices of women — not just in the capital but across the country — writing that women are not to blame for their own disappearance or deaths at the hands of men.

“Men, not women, need to change their behaviour,” Labour lawmaker David Lammy tweeted.

A socially distanced outdoor vigil for Everard was set for Saturday, to be held at London’s Clapham Common. On Thursday evening, organizers said in a statement that police had warned them the gathering would be unlawful. They said they were seeking legal advice.

“Women are not the problem,” organizers of the vigil wrote on Facebook. “We believe that streets should be safe for women, regardless of what you wear, where you live or what time of day or night it is. We shouldn’t have to wear bright colours when we walk home and clutch our keys in our fists to feel safe.”

This report has been updated.