In a recent seminar a tutor asked the following question: “Do you fear crime?”. A large number of the group answered no. But notably those of us who answered in the affirmative shared commonalities: every one of us a woman, and each of us when probed listed rape and assault among our fears. But the fear is not a general one. Certainly for me, it is not one I take into my home or that walks with me each morning. It is a fear that catches me in a very specific circumstance: when I make my way home alone after dark.
This fear was imbued in me long before I experienced anything to make sense of it, instilled by years of being reminded that women should not walk home at night. For some time I feared the night in the same way I find many women are nervous around white vans – you may not have ever experienced anything that has specifically generated mistrust around them, and yet sometimes you find yourself crossing the road to avoid them.
Over the last few years, however, my fears have become realities. I can no longer count the amount of times I have been harassed or assaulted in the street. A few incidents in particular have had a huge impact on shaping my behaviours: a gang of men who grabbed me and groped me in a quiet street; a man who followed me home. Indeed, as a result of these incidents, it is not unusual that I’ll turn down evening plans due to anxieties over getting home.
Sadly, neither this feeling nor these experiences are unique to me. Indeed, a 2014 survey that asked about women’s’ experiences on Clifton Triangle found that only half felt safe getting home at night. Additionally, More found that 73% of women fear rape, and almost half avoid going out at night due to fears over their safety.
Many women are however met with few alternatives than to walk the streets at night, whether they’re commuting or meeting friends. And yet consistently we’re told not to. And worse, when an incident occurs we are reminded not to walk the streets. We are told to police ourselves: don’t drink, don’t wear short skirts, don’t tie your hair back. Instead of making these spaces safe for women, we remove them from them, and in doing so we make women responsible for the harms committed against them.
But I reject that. Women should not be forced to plan their lives around fears of violence and harassment. They should be able to walk the streets freely. So on November 27th we take back the streets. We Reclaim the Night to challenge that culture that often tells us we must hide ourselves away.
Find out more about reclaim the night here.