Why Do We Have To Go To Such Lengths To Stay Safe At Night?

We carry our keys like a weapon or wear trainers at all times, because we’ve been conditioned to be on our guard, be aware and be alert at all times

Why Do We Have To Go To Such Lengths To Stay Safe At Night?

by Chemmie Squier |
Published on

Last week Taylor Yocum, a 22-year-old student at Iowa University, was in the news for her photography project Guarded; a series of black and white portraits which depict females from her university holding the 'weapons' they carry when walking alone at night. Some girls poke their keys between their fingers to act like little knives if someone were to approach them, whilst others have little canisters of mace (pepper spray) to impair an attacker's vision. The pictures, though simple, are poignant. They’re a reminder of the extreme lengths many women go to make themselves feel 'safe' when they're walking alone, because of the fear of attack or sexual assault. It’s certainly something I, and a lot of girls I know, can identify closely with.

The safety of women, especially at night, rarely leaves the news. Which is little surprise, given that on average 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales every year, whilst over 400,000 are sexualty assaulted. Only a few weeks ago, Ione Wells was attacked whilst walking home one evening, after which she wrote a powerful open letter to her attacker telling him that, amongst other things, 'this is a fight you will not win'.

I'm lucky that the distance between my flat and the tube is about a minute’s walk along a pretty busy main road, so I feel OK with that. In the past? Not so much. In the house I lived in before I had a 10 minute walk along a quiet, residential street with limited street lights. Needless to say every journey involved me freaking the fuck out. I’ll admit that I’m a bit of a 'scared' person; I'm convinced I'm going to be pick pocketed (bag across the body, always zipped) or someone will break into my flat (laptop under the mattress) or just that something bad is going to happen to me. But in reality, the world is scary and these fears are very real.

One night after dinner with my family, it was time to head back home. By myself. My brother’s girlfriend, who’s American, whacked out a mini canister of pepper spray, and told me to take it. So I did and I did feel better when I walked along that quiet street by myself. A lot better. In fact, I started carrying it around with me on the reg because it made me feel safe. It did make me realise how on edge I’d felt before too, and it was a shocking comparison. Don’t get me wrong, I am not, in any way, saying everyone should go out and buy mace (which is technically classed as a weapon - so by carrying it to protect myself being attacked, in theory I'm the one committing the crime). But the lengths we go to feel safe on our own is staggering. And it’s not just me: when I asked around it became clear I'm not the only one going to great lengths to protect myself and feel ‘OK’ when I'm walking home alone at night.

One friend of mine pretends to be on the phone when she gets into a taxi, ‘telling’ the other person that she’s en route and will be there soon - just so the driver is aware that someone knows her movements. She also said she always has the Miss Congeniality ‘SING’ (stomach, instep, nose, groin) movements in her mind, ready to put into action if someone tries to grab her.

Another carries her keys between her fingers, just like some of the girls in the pictures, reading to lunge if someone threatens her. She looks around ‘every 10 seconds’ too, which if nothing else, is just completely inconvenient.

Every woman I spoke to had lists and lists of things that they did or didn’t do, in the hope of keeping themselves safe: always having someone on the phone in your bag so they can hear everything, always wearing trainers in case you need to run, walking in the middle of the road to avoid any alleyways… It goes on. And it’s insane.

I’m not trying to scaremonger, not at all. Rather, address the fact that a lot of us probably do these things without giving them a second thought. And why? Because we’ve been conditioned, by society and the terrible things that do sometimes happen, to be on our guard, be aware, be alert at all times. We act like that because we feel we have to, in order to keep ‘safe’. The issue here, of course, isn't whether we're doing enough, or taking the right steps to ‘protect’ ourselves. The issue is that we feel like we have to in the first place - and that responsibility falls to the people who attack women in in the street, when it's dark, just because they can.

Hopefully, one day, I'll be able to keep my headphones in and finish that really great podcast I was listening to because I don’t have to be totally alert to my surroundings at all times. And until then? I’ll carry my mace in one hand and my keys in the other. Just in case.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

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Follow Chemmie on Twitter @chemsquier

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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