The Pandemic Has Made Us Forget How Scary It is to Walk the Streets Alone

CW: the murder of Sarah Everard, mentions of assault and violence against women, trans, and non-binary people.

The disappearance of Sarah Everard came as a shock to the nation – and yet, it shows an all-too-familiar fear for women up and down the UK. Everard went missing on March 3rd while walking home from a friend’s house. A Metropolitan police officer has been arrested on charges of kidnapping and murder, and her remains have sadly been identified.

Ask any woman, trans, or non-binary person you know, and they will describe in detail the fear they feel walking the streets at night – at any time, in fact. We have precautions built into us from a young age – hold your keys between your fingers, don’t walk home alone after dark, ‘text me when you get home, so I know you’re safe’. However, over the last 12 months when events have been cancelled and working from home has become the norm, it has been easy to forget that sickening fear. But the news, and the stories shared all over social media recently, have been a stark reminder of the reality that could await use when we leave the house.

But considering life in lockdown, I’ve realised that it was always there. Daily walks have become nothing short of a lifeline for everyone; they are often the only respite we get from the same four walls day in, day out. But it never occurred to me to go out for a walk after the sun went down. In the winter, this usually meant sacrificing fresh air on any day I was working past 4pm. It seemed normal, and I didn’t think twice about it until I walked to my friend’s house between lockdowns for dinner one night and remembered in a flash why I had been unconsciously avoiding these situations.

For most of the pandemic, I’ve lived in a small, safe village. I go for walks every day, but this once innocent activity has been fundamentally changed by the news of Sarah Everard’s death. Even in broad daylight I find myself wondering if I really need to put on my headphones, or if that route is really the safest one I can take.

News sites and social media feeds have been a haunting reminder for women across the UK of a feeling that many had been slowly forgetting about. This reminder was only strengthened by the recent Guardian report that 97% of 18-24-year-old women in the UK have experienced sexual assault. Suddenly, dreams of nights out post-lockdown were dampened with the usual question. ‘How will I get home?’ ‘Are those shoes safe to wear if I need to run?’ As people share their own stories, there’s one thought that seems to unite women today – it could have been me.

This weekend, vigils took place on doorstops across Britain to remember Sarah Everard and show solidarity with victims of assault and violence. Countless articles will be published; some directed at women on how to stay safe when you’re walking alone at night, others directed at men to teach them how not to intimidate women in the streets. We can only hope for a national wake-up call that will make the streets safer for everyone, so that when we do get out of lockdown we don’t have to fear for our safety every time we leave the house.

Image courtesy of Darran Shen.

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