As women we should be able to walk home safely, but these stories prove we can’t

The disappearance of Sarah Everard has struck a chord with many women

TW: Harassment 

The disappearance of anyone is always a tragedy, but the circumstances around the recent disappearance of 33-year-old Sarah Everard have struck a chord with thousands of women.

Last Wednesday evening Sarah left a friend’s flat in Clapham around 9pm, she was meant to arrive at her home in Brixton by 10pm, but she has not been heard from or seen since that evening. The police have been searching for her and last night a police officer was arrested in connection with the case.

Sarah did everything we women are told to do at night to keep ourselves safe – she wore bright clothing, phoned her boyfriend, stuck to main roads and yet some people are still suggesting she brought this on herself.

We are taught these safety precautions from the moment we are allowed to walk by ourself and for many women that begins on their walk to school. We are told not to wear a short skirt, carry a rape alarm, don’t put your headphones in, don’t go out at night, stick to main roads, hold your keys, phone a friend, cross the road, go into a shop if you feel someone following you.

After years of walking alone, these things become so unconscious they are part of you. You are constantly in fear and looking behind you to check you are safe.

Walking alone without fear is a right we should all have. But the disappearance of Sarah Everard has proved we are not safe. And yet rather than men being told to modify their behaviour, it is us women who are being told by the police to stay inside after Sarah’s disappearance. This recent development is not news to us, changing our behaviour is something we have to do to keep safe – we leave the party early, spend more money on a taxi, take the long route home, all because we’re scared of the very real danger outside.

Walking represents a basic freedom of being able to go where and when you want to, for many women it’s their main way of getting around and during lockdown it’s one of the few legal ways we can leave the house. This freedom is being encroached upon, as it always is, by men who make women and young girls feel unsafe whilst they are simply existing in public.

Men are quick to say it’s “not all men”, and to an extent they are right. However even without meaning to the majority of men will have made a woman feel unsafe by walking too close behind her or running past her on a jog without announcing his presence.

Most of the time they will not mean to do it, but all women have felt unsafe at one point in their lives whilst walking somewhere, often it is because of harmless moments like a jogger coming too close, but sometimes it is because the threat is very real. And for those far too frequent occurrences this needs to be taken seriously and something has to change.

We spoke to eight women who shared their stories of being harassed, uncomfortable and frightened simply whilst on a walk:

I haven’t walked alone at night since

A couple of years ago I was 16 in college, a fellow student who I wasn’t friends with (practically a stranger) began to follow me to my bus stop everyday. He’d persist to ask where I lived, if I had a boyfriend and I hated it. It got so bad I reported him to college. They didn’t do much until he began to get violent.

My classmate asked him why he was staring at me all the time, in front of everyone. So they were taken out of class and he threw a chair at her. He was then moved to another class. It petrified me. He was violent, he could’ve taken that out on me. I’d divert and go other ways or I’d get my sister to come and get me, I’d do anything to avoid him following me. Terrifying.

I haven’t walked alone at night since. As this was at a point in the year when it’d get pitch black at 4pm. College would finish at 4pm, so I’d dread it for the entire day. I had to lie all the time, lie about where I lived, what bus I was going to take, I even lied about what uni I was planning to go to.


He lunged at me and pushed me back against a wall

I was walking round my friends house on the last night before lockdown 2.0 and it was around 5:30pm I think. We were going out for a meal since we knew we wouldn’t be able to for a while so I was taking some clothes to get changed into at hers etc. I was wearing jeans and my coat was zipped up and I was carrying a bag.

I walked down Portswood past one of the pubs where a guy was hanging round outside so I just figured he was having a cigarette or something. As I got level with him on the pavement he lunged at me and pushed me back against a wall.

I honestly was so freaked out because as much as I’ve had guys cat call, hit my bum that kinda thing in the street, this just felt a lot scarier. It all happened so quickly as well but he was holding my left arm against the wall and my right one was free so I punched him in the face without that much thought.

He let go of me and started swearing and insulting me but I then ran the rest of the way to my friends house. That was the first and only time I’ve ever punched anyone and as much as I have a sense of pride for defending and standing up for myself, the whole experience really affected me.


The other men just laughed

In Brighton all of the main clubs are along the seafront and one time I left the club by myself and a random man who was with a group of other men walked past me and then turned around and ran back up to me and slapped my bum.

The other men just laughed and he ran back to them. That was the only time i had ever/will ever leave a club by myself again.


I have definitely been followed

Walking down Portswood high street, which is the student area in Southampton is awful. The amount of times I’ve been catcalled/honked at from a car or just stared at, at any time of day not just when it’s dark. I HATE walking down it alone.

And I have definitely been followed down it as well, luckily it’s quite high-street with shops so you can just duck into a shop and wait but it can be quite scary.


About once a week a man just whispers something creepy right into my ear as I walk past

I’ve had random men lean out of pub entryways to try and grope me when I’m walking, even in the middle of the day.

The current ‘trend’ I’m noticing is men seem to have decided instead of shouting, they’ll whisper in my ear? Like about once a week a man just whispers something creepy right into my ear as I walk past.

It makes me so sad and angry that we’ve all had these experiences, and that we can’t just exist in a public space without being intimated. It’s such a huge loss emotionally to not be able to just feel safe and relaxed in public spaces, and to have to constantly be on your guard.


Multiple men had already been gross so I just turned around and went home

When it was really hot last summer I went for a walk in a vest ONCE but within about five minutes multiple men had already been gross so I just turned around and went home.


I just kept saying “it’s a no, it’s a no, it’s a no”

I was walking between the station and the office, it was a super busy street and the morning. I noticed this guy was walking in time with me, like when I sped up he would, when I slowed down he would and he was consistently walking next to me for ages. I had my headphones in but noticed he was trying to talk to me.

I gave him the benefit of the doubt and thought “maybe he’s looking for directions” and took my headphones out to see what he wanted. He said: “Hey, how old are you?”, I said: “why?”, he then replied: “I like the look of you, can I have your number?”

I said “no”, he said “why?” (as if I need to give a reason?!). I lied and said I have a boyfriend and he frowned and said: “really? what’s his name?”.

I lied and said “Ben”. He said: “Is that really your boyfriend’s name? You don’t actually have a boyfriend do you?”. We went back and forth with me saying I have a boyfriend and I’m not interested and him saying I don’t – I have no idea what he was trying to achieve here other than making me feel uncomfortable.

I finally said: “It’s a no, go away”. He carried on arguing whatever bullshit point he was trying to make and I just kept saying “It’s a no, it’s a no, it’s a no” over and over until he walked off.


It made me want to not put make up on and wear big ugly clothing so I didn’t get noticed

It was this crazy warm weather during the first lockdown and all we could do was the one daily walk. I would do a loop in my lunch hour. So when it was hot I would sometimes wear gym leggings and a strappy top or sometimes was so hot I had to wear shorts.

I had this man in this van physically hang out this van window hurling comments like “look at that bum” and “what I would do to get a hold of you” and the other guy wolf whistled.

But every day on this walk I did there was always someone beeping their car horn or wolf whistled as they drove past. Made me want to not put make up on and wear big ugly clothing so I didn’t get noticed. Just terrible what these men think they can do – should be made illegal.


Police ask anyone who has seen Sarah or who has information that may assist the investigation to call the Incident Room on 0208 785 8244, or via the Major Incident Portal.

*Some names have been changed

Featured image credit: kevin laminto on Unsplash  

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