The family of Zara Aleena has said her death has “made campaigners out of all of us” as her murderer was sentenced.
Law graduate Zara, 35, was sexually assaulted and killed by Jordan McSweeney, 29, from Dagenham, as she walked home in Ilford in June.
Speaking as McSweeney was jailed for life with a minimum term of 38 years on Wednesday (December 14), Zara’s aunt Farah Naz said: “We want to get a message across to say this should not have happened.
“Violence must stop towards women. Zara should not have been killed and this was avoidable.
“Zara’s death has made campaigners out of all of us and we will not stop.”
Farah described her niece as “an assertive, outgoing, articulate and funny person”.
She was training to be a solicitor and was known in the movement to end violence against women and girls before she became a victim of it herself.
Farah said: “What she talked about was fairness and justice and that was her real focus – she saw herself as equal to any person.”
Finding out about Zara’s murder, Farah went into “extreme shock, disbelief, anger and paralysis”.
She said: “We have been numb and disbelieving. Even five-and-a-half months later, even after identifying her, even after touching her dead body, even after burying her, it does not compute and we are still in trauma.”
Ms Naz described being stuck in a “loop of disbelief” with images of her niece’s last moments.
She said: “The horror she faced, the pain she must have endured for the length that she was attacked, so brutal what was done to her. We are in this pain.
“We live in a horror film. We live in something that does not feel real and we keep coming up against walls.
“We think, how did it happen? How did this happen to Zara?
“We are stuck in the film with her, we are watching, our hands are tied and we are not able to save her.”
On how Zara would be remembered, her aunt said: “We don’t want her last hours, her end, to define her.
“Zara means literally radiance and she was the heart of us. The heart of our family. And the heart of her community, the heart of her friends, and that’s how we remember her. That’s what’s been taken, the heart of us.
“I think of her as an ambassador of the end of violence against women and girls. And I think she would be really proud to be that.”
On McSweeney, Farah said: “We see him as someone who has stamped his pain and anger onto Zara and destroyed her with that, and destroyed us.
“He had an extreme indifference to her life and to law and to society’s norms. He had no fear of the consequences. It is clear he is a very dangerous man and so our view is that society needs to be protected from him.”
The family drew strength from the support of people who came together for a vigil a week after her niece’s death.
Farah said: “It brought some faith back for us, some trust that actually there is humanity and people wanted to support us and stand up against violence towards women and that was really fantastic and that made us feel completely held.
“The streets should be safe, Zara should have been allowed to walk home. She should not have been stopped. And the vigil was extremely symbolic. We all held her in our hearts and we walked her home.”
Farah said there were lessons to be learned about how to prevent violence against women and girls in the future.
She said it was wrong to see it as “inevitable” and said there were numerous opportunities for intervention to eradicate it.
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She questioned how police could better identify potentially violent offenders.
The general public also have a role to play in preventing attacks, she said.
On the night of Zara’s murder, her killer had already stalked two lone women and was acting suspiciously yet the police were not alerted.
Farah said: “That night there were women that were harassed and there was no reporting.
“Zara was an active citizen, a Good Samaritan. There is a gap between how we take care of our fellow citizens, all of us.”
Reporting by PA.