Written by Emily Fox.
The news of Sarah Everard’s disappearance and murder has sparked a national debate surrounding women’s safety and prompted women nationwide to reflect on their own experiences. A plethora of posts have been shared across social media from messages of solidarity to informative posts, containing real-life statistics.
One thing which has become clear is that we live in a society in which harassment is accepted, and has forced women to take their safety into their own hands. Keys clutched between fingers, constantly crossing the road, taking a longer route home and pretending to be on the phone. These are just a handful of the measures women take in an attempt to protect themselves on a daily basis.
Recent research found that 97% of women aged 18-24 in the UK have been sexually harassed. For many women, the recent news has encouraged them to come to terms with the devastating experiences they have had, and has reminded them why they are scared to walk alone.
Five DMU students speak out about their safety, and the change they want to see.
“Going out with your girlfriends shouldn’t be a scary thing.”
“It was around 2am and I was out with my friends. I joined them in the smoking area, and after some time, one of my male friends started talking to a guy. Outside of the club, I noticed there was a girl who was highly intoxicated, lying on the floor next to the statue near the smoking area. The girl was wearing a skirt, and she had passed out on the floor. Her skirt went up and soon she was exposed.”
“This random guy my friend was talking to took out his phone in front of us, and started zooming into the exposed part. At this point, we noticed the girl because the smoking area was full. Instantly, my friend saw that he was taking pictures of the girl, so he confronted him and asked him what he was doing and why would he do something like this. I even told him that what he was doing is not right and we forced him to delete the pictures and he did. By the time we realised, the ambulance had arrived and she was being taken care of.”
“The point is that no one went to help her, even though she was right in front of a busy nightclub, and she was exposed. This was just one of the guys that were there, but I can’t imagine who else did the same and got away with it.”
“Personally, I only feel safe when I’m with a man. When I am alone, I feel so uncomfortable and exposed because I am alone and someone can easily do something to me. I feel that I won’t know how to defend myself, especially at night.”
“I have seen so many things when I go out to the clubs or the pubs. I don’t drink, so I’m always alert because I know how things go. I’ve seen men grabbing women when they’re walking past them, and men getting too close to intoxicated women like they are objects. I think it’s so disgusting, but this is what we have to deal with. Thankfully nothing has happened to me, because whenever I go out I make sure I’m with a big group. But it shouldn’t be like this. Going out with your girlfriends shouldn’t be a scary thing just because men can’t control themselves.”
“‘Men just don’t leave you alone.”
Sophia Blair, 21
“There have been a few instances where I’ve felt uneasy going out, just because you get unwanted attention where men just don’t leave you alone, nor get the picture you don’t want to talk to them.”
“I remember getting into an Uber once on my own, I live in the city centre and he took me almost out of Leicester because he told me he was taking me to ‘the other road’ which was the same name as my street. I had my Snapchat maps on so my friends could see where I was, it was very abnormal.”
“But as soon as they called me, we had to do the ‘how long will you be’ ‘I’ll be waiting outside for you’ which I will be eternally grateful for, because he soon then turned around after I questioned where we were going. That’s the most significant time I’ve felt scared.”
“I found it more noticeable now that we’ve been in lockdown.”
Philippa Blakeley, 20
“At night, I’ve found it more noticeable now that we’ve been in lockdown. Before, I would usually have my friends with me, and if I didn’t, there would be many people around in town. I never felt entirely safe, but you weren’t really on your own the same.”
“This year, I live on my own and can bubble with a couple of my female friends. If I’m walking back from their house, they won’t walk with me because it’s still unsafe for two girls. One time, I had to go down an extremely quiet road. I could feel someone behind me, so I crossed over the road in case they were going to come and charge at me.”
“I decided I would walk them off a bit and get to the main road by campus as quickly as possible because I didn’t want them following me into my accommodation. My thinking was this is a busy main road and it never really gets quiet late at night. There are always police and ambulances driving past, so I knew that if anything was to happen, I would kind of feel safer. But this man just kept following me.”
“I rang my friends and eventually he got the hint that this was a bit weird. I’m glad I can ring someone on my walk home while they are still awake, to ensure that I get home safe. But I shouldn’t have to do that, I should be free to come and go as I please. I don’t think that he had bad intentions. He might have been walking exactly the same way home as me but it’s still a bit strange.”
“Another time, I remember someone was driving along the road late at night, I was walking back home and they were coming towards me in their car. The car pulled in, so I crossed over the road, but then I was behind all of these parked cars. As a woman, we just have to take the risk, I had my keys in my hand and my headphones in to look preoccupied. I told myself it would be fine, and carried on walking.”
“The smallest things can give us a real fright and it’s just about being considerate to other people. Men need to appreciate that we don’t know who is good or bad. When people speak to you at night, it can be quite off putting, especially if we’re walking by ourselves I think people just don’t realise the impact they are having.”
“But it makes you realise that when things, terrible awful things happen, that actually you’re not safe. I know it has definitely worried me more and made me cautious about going home and my family as well. I don’t really worry about the things that I do but as I think more about it, the more I realise the impact it’s had on my life.”
“I don’t want my children being brought up in a place where they can’t walk around safely, and where they are dependent on men. Perhaps, more measures could be put in place. There could be better lighting, CCTV and more police community support officers on the streets. We want it to be safe for everyone. We don’t want anyone getting mugged or attacked.”
“It can’t get brushed under the carpet and forgotten about.”
“Somewhere which had appeared safe to me, wasn’t at all.”
Emily Fox, 21
“One time in first year, I was walking past the Business School around midday to go to a lecture. I had my headphones in, and I was on the phone. Then before I knew it, a man came up from behind really quickly and stole it.”
“I went to DMU Security to report the situation, and I was told there were not many cameras in that part of campus as the buildings were listed. From then on, I was extra cautious and chose to walk the long way around just so I didn’t have to experience that again.”
“It really made me realise that I take it for granted that many areas are secure, when actually somewhere which had appeared safe to me, wasn’t at all.”
“Even last year, when I socialised with friends after work, I was the only one who lived on this side of the city. If I walked back by myself, I was always conscious of whether there was anyone behind me, as it’s not very well lit.”
“Most of the time I would park near campus, have a lemonade or two and then drive back. So I didn’t have to walk by myself. I shouldn’t have had to put in this precaution, I should have been able to enjoy myself just as much as anyone else.”
“I cannot remember a time in the last two years where I haven’t called a family member or a friend on the walk back home at night.”
“Things need to change, this is not acceptable. We need to stand up for what is right. If we see our friends being inappropriate, we need to tell them. Only by acknowledging will a shift happen in our society today.”
“There’s not a single woman I know that hasn’t been harassed in some way.”
“I’m in my third year at university, so I’ve had the phase of going out and partying and I would walk back with other people. I always knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t really want to walk home alone.”
“There have been times where I have walked home alone, and I’ve reminded myself how stupid that was. But in retrospect, I’m like why? Because I’m a woman should I think it’s wrong to walk home after a night out? Why is that a danger for me just because I’m a woman?”
“It would be very nice if I could go for an evening walk and not feel the sense of anxiety that if I go into a dark area, that someone’s probably there and is waiting for me.”
“Since everything has come out, there’s not a single woman I know that hasn’t been harassed in some way. Whether that’s in broad daylight where they’ve been wolf-whistled at, made to feel uncomfortable as people laughed at them, or at night, walking home alone. Everyone deserves to be able to walk down the street and feel safe, no matter their sexual orientation, skin color, or gender. As a woman, I’m not going to walk too close to a woman because I understand how uncomfortable it is.”
“When I was younger, I used to walk home from school, and my dad would make me text him that I’m fine. I remember having a conversation with him saying ‘I really do feel sorry for you as a woman, because you will be forced to go through these things that I’ve never had to go through’. I didn’t really understand what he meant when I was younger, but at university I’ve heard so many other people’s stories and realised the dangers.”
“I feel sometimes it comes down to our education system, I feel like there is a huge part missing in regards to the fact that many things are normalized. Even in school, it’s never questioned when boys ping girls’ bras and pull a girl’s hair. Instead, it’s like ‘you shouldn’t do that’ or boys will be boys.”
“Everyone can develop and improve their life. Sometimes you may do questionable things, but then realise what you did was wrong and actively make choices in your life to learn. It’s about making a conscious effort to make people feel more comfortable.”
“We know these things aren’t normal, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Small things, like recognising if you are walking too close, don’t require a lot of effort and can make a huge difference to someone’s life. Actions like these begin to normalise respecting women, and challenge questionable behaviour.”
The conversation around women’s safety must continue as every woman should have the right to move freely on the streets and in public, without the fear of being intimidated or harassed.