The fact that a police officer is suspected of her abduction and murder makes the blood run cold in anyone with a police connection.
In the immediate aftermath, there were the familiar ‘streets of fear’ headlines and a heated debate around violence against women. Any attempt to discuss the wider spectrum of violence was shouted down as misogynist or missing the point – code for stupid.
So now as tempers have cooled a bit and, at the risk of being accused of ‘trotting out statistics’, the facts are instructive.
First things first. All violence is unacceptable, whether in a public or domestic setting and regardless of the gender of the victim. Violence is an age-old curse woven deep into our society and, while we have made some progress in recent years, we have far to go.
But if we are to make inroads into violence against women, we must recognise that all violence is connected.
The plain truth is that we will never improve the safety of women and girls until we tackle the whole spectrum of violence – top to bottom.
The reality is that while the majority of violence is male, there are also violent women and children. To cast this problem as a simple male-female issue, really does miss the point.
There are other hard realities. Many more men are killed than women, usually about 70 to 30 per cent. And many more men are killed in public places and by strangers, than women. Tragically, most women are killed in a domestic setting, by someone they know.
Why is it important to once again ‘trot out’ these statistics? Because it’s just as important to give your teenage son good personal safety advice as it is your daughter. He is more at risk.
So how can we use the momentum following the tragic death of Sarah to make real improvements. Well the evidence is pretty clear, much good work has been done, especially by our excellent Violence Reduction Unit.
The roots of violence are connected and lie deep in early life experiences, often coupled with emotional and physical neglect. From these formative experiences, violence is incubated.The long-term solutions are also clear. Interventions with troubled families must be early and involve a number of disciplines, a team around the child, to spot kids with violent tendencies.
Real improvement will only come by investing early in family support, good rehabilitation for violent offenders and a system of support for all victims of violence.
We know this, yet in recent years government policy has failed to follow the evidence. While many women’s groups have been generously funded, male victims have been ignored and family support budgets have been cut to the bone.
If we are ever to succeed in tackling violence, it will be by following the head not the heart, by recognising the plight of all victims and by tackling the problem at its roots.
And as a start, perhaps the most fitting memorial to Sarah, would be to set aside prejudices and have a frank discussion about violence and all its victims.
Tom Wood is a writer and former Deputy Chief Constable