When asked, have you ever been sexually assaulted to women ages 18-24? 97% said yes. 96% said they had never reported these incidents to police, citing a lack of trust in the force. We are looking at a world where women modify their behaviours in attempt to avoid sexual assault or harassment.
This is not walking alone at night. This is not wearing an outfit that is too revealing. This is ringing people when walking alone. This is walking on well-lit streets at night. This is not being too loud. This is not being too flirty. This is not making eye contact with men in fear of being cat called.
And with the death of Sarah Everard ringing close to home for so many women, walking home at night being an unsafe place in the streets, why does this keep happening? Men don’t feel uneasy when they roam the streets at night, men don’t feel uncomfortable, men aren’t made to feel vulnerable every time they go anywhere when the sun goes down. Why?
Her disappearance wasn’t even in the depths of the night, she was last seen walking at 9.30pm in Clapham on someone’s doorbell camera. The police issued a warning out for women not to go out alone at night. As we are still in winter, this means the woman’s working day finishes at around 4pm, whereas a man can go out at whatever hour he pleases. Not even mentioning the claims that Sarah should’ve been more vigilant and careful as she walked home that night in the dark.
Reclaim the night is a campaign that originally came after the Yorkshire ripper attacks, where women marched the streets at night, and encouraging women not to change their behaviours. The attacks came with a curfew only for women, and the fear was heightened more than ever.
I remember my friend telling me that she had been harassed on the way home from my flat, so I began walking her home. But I’d find myself avoiding the high street whenever I walked back alone to avoid running into men who would hound me with questions, and I carried a rape alarm which I had pressed into my hand as I strolled quickly back to my flat. My heart was racing. And of course, I’d received the information: “Text me when you’re home safe.”
You find yourself so swept in the narrative that you have to protect yourself and be vigilant. We should be using the narrative that we teach males that it’s not okay to be predators under the cover of darkness.
And you may sit there and think, ‘well I’m one of the good guys, or I would never do that to a woman,’ or maybe you believe that sexual harassment refers only to raping, groping or causing direct harm. Sexual harassment comes in such a variety of forms, that you’ll find you could’ve committed sexual harassment and wouldn’t even have known.
If you make rape or sexist jokes, you are part of the problem. If you persistently message women who aren’t interested in talking to you, you are part of the problem. If you walk behind a women closely in an empty quiet street, you are part of the problem. If you place your hand on the lower part of a woman’s back when your trying to squeeze past them, you are part of the problem. There are so many problems that where you feel like there are no problems and you’d never do that you may not realise all the things you are doing wrong. This is what makes sexual harassment so normal in today’s society, the reason that 97% of women aren’t safe.
Demand justice for survivors, ramp up pressure on law enforcers to take claims seriously and impose fair penalties for these crimes, teach your sons to treat women with human rights. Educate males around you to know what makes women uncomfortable and what they can do to help. Because this isn’t a gender thing, this is a human rights issue. Women are not the ones to blame for rape and male violence, the men who chose to commit these crimes are, and we demand the right to live without fear.
And maybe one day, we can all enjoy the night.