I’m fed up of not feeling safe walking home at night through The Meadows

Female Edinburgh students deserve better

For the second time in just over six months, we are mourning the loss of a woman murdered whilst walking alone. Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard were both young women with their whole lives ahead of them who were murdered seemingly at random by strangers.

After both murders, I felt a strange sense of grief – which seemed unusual for two people I didn’t know. Then the realisation hit me. Like them, I’m young and female – and like them, I’ve felt absolutely terrified whilst walking alone (especially at night). Like both Sarah and Sabina, I’m also from South London – but the one place I hate walking alone after dark more than anywhere on this earth is The Meadows.

It’s remote, often completely empty, and poorly lit. But most importantly, it’s a place that many female Edi students have been warned about and told to avoid – despite many of us living on the opposite side of it and needing to walk through it to go literally anywhere.

When I first moved to Marchmont as a second year, a female friend in the year above pulled me to one side and told me to never walk through it alone after dark – she even told me: “your safety is worth more than the £1.70 bus fare on the number 41”. I initially didn’t listen, but then within a month I had been nearly followed home twice.

After this I was petrified. But now I’m fed up. Enough is enough – female Edi students deserve to feel safe walking home alone at night though The Meadows.

I’d like to start by thanking every male friend who has ever offered to walk me home, and every female friend who has texted me when she got home safe. But quite frankly, we shouldn’t need to. If I woke up tomorrow and never needed to hold my keys between my fingers again, the world would be an objectively better place.

But when you’re walking home alone and having a random conversation with a friend (so at least if anything happens someone will know), a world where women feel safe all of the time seems lightyears away. Because sweet fuck all is being done to stop this.

This spring, a video of some teenagers having a fight on The Meadows went viral and within days there was temporary CCTV and police patrols to prevent illegal drinking during the day. But women have been feeling unsafe walking across The Meadows at night since at least the 1960s and yet those with the power to change things just simply aren’t.

Now we know that increased surveillance or a police presence probably won’t solve this problem. Not only would this risk marginalising and criminalising groups with a history of being treated unfairly by the police (including People of Colour and LGBTQ+ people) but Sarah Everard was quite literally murdered by a serving police officer. Victims of gender based violence are also still being let down by the justice system as rape in Scotland has the lowest conviction rate of any crime.

However, it would be nice for them to pretend like this is an issue that matters to them and actually fucking do something, anything. It took the police just five days to act over drunk and disorderly behaviour on The Meadows – but over 50 years (and counting) to act on women’s safety in the same patch of grass.

The worst bit about how unsafe many female students feel about walking across The Meadows is that we’ve gaslit ourselves into thinking it’s an irrational fear. You tell yourself that Edinburgh is statistically quite a safe place to live, that a male student would never feel like this, and to stop being a wuss and just get on with it.

But deep down, even amongst the vocal minority of female students that claim to not feel scared, it never quite goes away. Some days you will just do it and hope for the best, and other days you’ll pay that bus or cab fare – silently resenting how much money it costs you as a tax on your gender.

One day, when we decide to take women’s safety and gender based violence seriously, this won’t be a problem. But to get there, we need to listen to women and tackle the problem at the source: sexism and misogyny. The fear of walking alone at night is just one manifestation of it – and to make sure women are safe at all times, we need to fight sexism and misogyny wherever we see it.

After all, Sarah Everard would probably still be alive if the police had taken seriously the complaint of indecent exposure made against Wayne Couzens days before her murder – and taken away his badge that he used to falsely imprison her with. No one who was nicknamed “the rapist” should be allowed anywhere near members of the public.

But men like him only think they can get away with it because of a society that has normalised men’s violence and harassment against women. Until this is no longer the case, your chances as a woman of becoming the next Sarah or Sabina may be low – but they’ll never quite be zero.

In response to our request for comment, Police Scotland gave us a statement from Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor:

 “The thoughts of everyone at Police Scotland are with the family and friends of Sarah Everard. Today’s sentencing will not ease the pain they have suffered since her horrific murder.

“Women should never be scared or reluctant to report any crime to us and can be assured that we will listen, support and carry out a robust and impartial investigation.

“Our officers work with absolute professionalism to protect the vulnerable and keep people safe in line with our core values of integrity, fairness and respect and a commitment to upholding human rights.

“The appalling circumstances of Sarah Everard’s death have deeply affected people and many are now rightly concerned about verifying an officer’s identity.

“Police officers always carry photographic  identification and will be happy to provide reassurance about who they are and their reason for speaking with someone.”

Edinburgh City Council did not provide comment at this time. 

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