Text me when you’re home – five words every woman has sent or received as a text when heading home in the evenings. It doesn’t even take a moment’s thought. It’s been second nature since we were teenagers.
I’ve sometimes forgotten to reply to these texts, distracted by the warmth of my house on return home, the desperation to get into some comfy pyjamas and raid the fridge for those alcohol-soaking carbs. But I’ve always appreciated the extra text that sometimes follows: “Did you get home okay?” After thanking them and talking about how much we enjoyed the night, we continue on with our lives until the next night out.
Like the rest of the world, I woke up today feeling devastated and angry about the news of Sarah Everard. The nature of her case has hit close to home for women everywhere. Sarah did all the things we as women get told to do – take the well-lit routes home, call someone, leave your friend’s house early, wear bright coloured clothing, and yet it still wasn’t enough. It’s never enough. And we never know who’s going to be the next victim who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Growing up in a small village, I had the privilege of feeling safe walking home at night after an 11pm finish at the pub I worked at. It wasn’t until I moved to a city for university at 18 that I started to think about my street safety more. I always remember the stories we’d hear about a student being raped in a park on campus and we were always told to never walk through this park at night. By day, families would sit having picnics on the grass and play tennis on the courts, so it was hard to imagine that this beautiful park could pose such danger.
As a student, I would avoid paying for a taxi home if I was going home by myself, and I remember being told off by my friends countless times for walking home alone from the student’s union. It was only a 20 minute walk, on a well-lit route that was often filled with other students drunkenly making their way home. But she was right – you can sadly never be too careful.
But then next came the taxi scares. We’d hear stories about women getting into taxis alone and being driven to remote locations, unable to get out as the doors locked from the inside. Sadly, myself and friends at uni all shared similar stories with each other about sexual harrassment and assault.
As I got older, I learned tactics to ‘minimise’ my chance of being attacked – walking with keys in my knuckles, watching videos online about how to get out of someone’s grip on my arm and wearing trainers on nights out so I could run home. Again, it’s not enough. It’s not a case of getting older and wiser. When I was travelling after university, I wanted to meet up with a friend in another hostel in Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. I was travelling with my male friend, but he was ill and wanted to stop in. I thought walking down a busy, well-lit strip would be fine, as the hostel was only a few kilometres away. Yet in the space of 20 minutes, I was groped by a passerby on a motorcycle, and then cornered by two men offering to give me directions. I instantly headed back to my hostel in tears, beating myself up for ‘putting myself in that situation’. After telling my friend at the other hostel what happened, he apologised for not thinking to come meet me and walk me there. How nice it must feel to just not have to think.
I got annoyed at myself again a year later when I decided to take a quick route through an underpass to meet some friends at the pub. This was the same underpass I used every day to get to work, which in the daytime is full of people heading to work. But at around 9pm at night, I was catcalled by a man in a dark hoodie who asked where I was going. Fight or flight kicked in and I ran as fast as I could, filled with fear as I heard his quick footsteps behind me. Luckily I spotted a police van around the corner and waved them down. The police were great and took a report from me and we drove around the block trying to find the man. We never found him, but I was so grateful to the police for being so cooperative and that nothing happened.
I know some may argue that situations like these are putting yourself at risk, but this shouldn’t even be up for discussion. One of my friends once told me how she always makes sure to never put herself in those situations, but what if those situations are just us simply living? Assault and rape can happen anywhere in the world and at any time. Women still need to get to work, see their friends and family and travel. We can’t have a male chaperone us at every beck and call, and we shouldn’t bloody need to.
These are just a couple of standout moments in what must be over 100 moments where I’ve felt fearful on the streets. And sadly we all know it won’t be the last.
How many more women are going to become victims through no fault of their own? For just living their lives? Something has to change.