This is the current hot topic in our news programmes, following the discovery of a body in Kentish woodland, now identified to be that of a 33-year old woman who'd been missing for several days after failing to return to her home from visiting a friend in South London. She'd been last seen on her homebound 50-minute walk after 9 p.m. some days ago. Two people have been arrested under suspicion, one an acting London police officer (off-duty at the time of the woman's disappearance), the other, his wife, suspected of helping to conceal his involvement, if any, in the crime. The occupation of the person being questioned - already named by most of the tabloids, plus some others - makes the story even more sensational than it otherwise might have been. In addition, there's now the revelation that a very few days before the woman's disappearance this suspect, then in civilian clothes, had been reported by several members of the public for having flashed himself in some fast-food establishment, an investigation of the incident not yet having been followed through.
Of course the event of a woman going missing, then found having been murdered is, sadly, very far from unusual in any country, but this time it's brought the issue to national consciousness to an extent that we haven't seen for many a year - namely, that we are still living in times when a woman's safety in public, no matter whereabouts in this country, still cannot yet be taken for granted. Far from it.
It brings to my mind an incident in 1991 shortly after I'd started to live in Hounslow, West London, which for me turned into a 2-year stint there. I wasn't as yet familiar with the area, and on one occasion in full daylight, I found myself lost on a moderately busy road. Looking around for someone nearby to put me right, I saw that there was a lone, young, black lady, probably in her early 20s, following a few yards behind me. I began "Excuse me, can you help m......." Her reaction was alarming and unexpected. She'd stopped and she was staring at me - then started shrieking "Aieeeeeeeee......." at the top of her voice and began to run away back in the direction she'd just come from, looking behind her nervously - presumably checking if I was coming after her. Of course I was just standing there in shock. At least she hadn't been calling out "Help!" She stopped maybe fifty yards away and turned, watching me. Meanwhile, having just got over my initial surprise there was an oldish couple coming towards me, with whom I was able to enquire as to my whereabouts. They must have seen what had happened but were quite relaxed about my asking them for help, which they quite pleasantly gave me. While I'd been talking to them, the young woman had walked forward and passed us, giving me a wide berth, but she must have heard my genuine enquiry and may well (I'm guessing) have felt rather abashed at her behaviour. When I was alone again I can't recall now if I'd been directed to the same direction she was now going in but I'm sure that if I had been I'd have given her plenty of time to get well ahead of me.
I don't blame her in the slightest for anything at all, my being more perplexed than offended. After my initial surprise I must have assumed that she'd mistaken me for someone else with whom she'd had a bad experience - an assault, or even more than that, only worse. Or perhaps it was more general. Maybe she'd been subject to some traumatic event which made her suspect any and every man who approached her, so badly that it had affected the rest of her life. Whatever the cause of her behaviour it's profoundly and sadly disturbing - especially so if she'd understandably been reliving her part as a victim of some horrific act.
There must be an untold number of women around like this, women who are daily living out their deeply unpleasant experiences, or just the threat of such happenings, but in such a way as to affect their regular conduct with the world, including the thought that potentially every man has evil designs on her. Sometimes, indeed, their fears may be quite justified, as proven too late to the unfortunate recently murdered woman.
What a truly sad state we're in - all of us!