The new Commissioner Mark Rowley has admitted in an interview that the police have much to do to stop violence against women, but that he’d be “happy for his daughters and granddaughters to walk the streets of London at night”.
Fear influences behaviour
While he might be happy, many women are not. It may be difficult for men to understand the anxiety at the back of a woman’s mind, which often stops her from doing something or spoils the enjoyment of it.
The recorded number of physical street attacks on women is low, but there are huge numbers of unreported cases of harassment which carry a fear of it leading to worse. Data shows half of women feel unsafe walking alone near home after dark, compared to 14% of men. Walking alone in a dark park made 80% of women afraid; two thirds of young women had experienced harassment in the previous year. Nearly a third felt they’d been followed. It’s this dread of what might happen that can influence decisions. Although men are also at risk, evidence shows that women are much more likely to feel frequent anxiety.
Getting home safely
Imagine a young woman is out with friends, a mile or two from home. Before midnight she decides to leave and has a choice to make. She could call a minicab, or walk to the bus stop and hope a bus comes soon. Or accept a lift from a man in the group she hardly knows, who may have had a couple of drinks. Walking home alone would take half an hour.
Each option has risks to be considered. If you’re a woman, this weighing-up will be familiar. As a man, you’d probably just choose the quickest or cheapest way to get home. There may be no other factors to contemplate. It should be the same for women.
Whichever option she takes, she’ll probably arrive home safely. Keys gripped in hand, she will have walked quickly but quietly so as not to attract attention. She may be alarmed by footsteps behind her, or by drunk people shouting offensively, but she’s ok this time. Relieved, she shuts the door behind her. Another time she may decide not to go out if there isn’t an obvious safe way to get home.
Fear can limit freedom
The risk is always there, and for women, restricting plans according to personal safety is inevitable. This is an unseen form of inequality.
The police have advised women to protect themselves by not going out alone at night and by avoiding dark areas. This reinforces the idea that women are somehow responsible if out alone at night; and that night-time or certain places are the danger, rather than predatory men. Commissioner Rowley should focus urgently on strategies for making the streets safe so that women, and indeed everyone, no longer need worry about safety.
Violence Against Women & Girls series
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