Walking alone at night means being constantly switched on

To get home to my student house in Norwich, I have to walk down a long dark street. Being a young woman scared to walk home alone late at night, I’ll often carefully scan this street. Reminding myself there’s safety in numbers, I’ll speed up so I can walk close to any other women I see. And then I worry because I’m walking quickly behind them, I’m probably scaring them too. In their minds, they probably think they’re being followed. At least, that’s what I would think.

I’ll be alert when I walk past any tall hedges, dark corners, or when cars and vans slowly drive past on the empty road – and stop for unknown reasons. I panic when the wheels stop turning and the brake lights come on. I predict that a car door will open, and I might be grabbed. This has never happened to me. But it’s happened to others. As I quickly walk along, I’ll take notice of the houses which still have lights on, from the pavement I’ll peer into the windows to see if there’s anyone sitting in their living rooms, so if I had to knock on their doors if I came across trouble, there would be someone to answer. 

I’ve always planned to invest in personal safety devices for women, the ones we’re always advised to carry: rape whistles, alarms, sprays, and keyring tools. I constantly remind myself to download a location sharing app. I keep in mind those TikTok videos which you can play aloud to pretend to be on the phone if your taxi driver takes a wrong turn. There’s YouTube clips too, ones that teach self-defence strategies for each way you could possibly be grabbed. I’ve noticed the self-defence classes that run at UEA, considering if it’s worth investing my time and money as a young woman who may regret later not having done so. I have memorised if I ever thought I was about to be raped in the street, I must shout out ‘fire’ instead of ‘rape’, because this is more likely to attract people’s attention. 

One of the main reasons I avoid drinking is so I can avoid the difficulties which come with being a young woman in a busy bar or club. The police have said that 44 drink spiking cases have been reported since October. It just doesn’t feel worth the risk. It shouldn’t be this way. I should feel safe; every woman should feel safe. No matter where we are, who we are, what we look like, what we’re doing, or what we’re wearing – we should all feel safe. 

But do I feel safe when I’m told to cover my drink or use anti-spiking devices because it’s the only way to prevent getting spiked? Do I feel safe when I’m told to dress modestly, so if I get sexually harassed or assaulted, it doesn’t come across as if I was ‘asking for it’? Do I feel safe when I am made more responsible for the chances of being sexually preyed upon, than the man who is likely to be accountable? When I see other girls out late at night, I instinctively worry for their safety. If for some reason we strike up a conversation, I check they feel safe, or have enough money to get home safely – and they automatically understand my concern.

On the 4th of November, I participated in Norwich’s ‘Girls Night In’ boycotting of night clubs, to ensure the spiking outbreak was taken seriously by clubs and bars nationwide. Joining a new women’s safety chat for UEA students and graduates, we check in on each other if we’re out late at night – female strangers supporting female strangers. Most importantly, I’ve read and listened to women’s personal experiences of spiking. And after taking in all of this information, I do my best to share it. To avoid any scenario in which myself or my friends could become the next victim, the next female face on the news. 

Overall, the issue of women’s safety in Norwich and Norfolk can be seen throughout the rest of the UK as we seem to live in a social culture where this continued harassment and violence that threatens women’s safety remains publicly ignored, as men continue to dominate the spaces in which conversations and actions can take place to stop this social-historic pattern of inequality. While I may have been fortunate to not have personally experienced any threats to my personal safety, I have friends and family who have. We all know another woman who has.

This is why I’m scared to walk home alone at night, down the long dark street with keys in my hand, back to my home in the City.

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Lily Boag

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November 2021
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