FROM the moment I was deemed old enough to walk to the shops on my own, my mum would call to me on my way out: "Remember to walk along main roads so people can see you and don't put your headphones in, you're only little, it wouldn't take much for someone to run up behind and pick you up."
I think it’s very important that I stress that my mum’s pleas of safety were often said fairly casually, perhaps in the way a mum might tell her son to take an umbrella with him in case it rained.
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The son would need protection from the weather, but the daughter would need protection from men.
Unfortunately for me, my mum’s fears became a reality and when I was just 12 years old I was sexually abused by a male secondary school teacher.
I’m now 27-years-old and if I find myself walking through a car park late at night, it's my instinct to reach into my bag and find the sharpest key to hold, in case I might need to jab it into someone's eye should they run up behind me.
Or if I’m walking through a woodland area alone, even in the day, I sometimes pretend to be chatting on the phone to my boyfriend and will say things like: “Oh you’re walking to meet me? Great, I’ll see you in a second”, just in case there is a man watching me, waiting to pounce.
And perhaps, the men reading this article may think they are pretty extreme, maybe even a tad dramatic – but when a study published yesterday tells me that 97 per cent of women aged 18-24 and 80 per cent of women of all ages in the UK have been the victims of sexual harassment, excuse me for my melodrama.
The tragic case of Sarah Everard has sent shock waves throughout the country and it seems to have struck a particular chord with women.
One woman wrote: “We’ve all felt the fear, gripped our keys, walked that bit faster. We all try to believe it’s irrational, except it’s not.”
Another added: “Every woman you know has taken a longer route. Has doubled back on herself. Has pretended to dawdle by a shop window. Has held keys in her hand. Has made a fake phone call. Every woman you know has walked home scared.”
If I find myself walking through a car park late at night, it's my instinct to reach into my bag and find the sharpest key to hold, in case I might need to jab it into someone's eye should they run up behind me.
Anna Yearley, the joint executive director of the legal action NGO Reprieve, tweeted: “For all those women who text their mates to let them know they got home safe, who wear flat shoes at night so they can run if they need, who have keys in their hands ready to use, it’s not your fault. It never is. So many of us have stories of being assaulted. It’s never our fault.”
In the wake of this case, I’ve also been urged by friends to download apps that have been designed to protect women.
One of these is able to detect a “panic scream” and when activated it will send a rescue message to your chosen person.
How incredibly sad that in 2021 Britain we are installing apps on our phones to measure our screams.
Victim blaming was another element to raise its ugly head shortly after Sarah first went missing.
People have openly questioned her choice to walk home alone along a well-lit stretch of road – as if her fate was in any way her fault.
This infuriates me and reminds me of the Grace Millane murder case.
She was killed by Jesse Kempson in a hotel room in Auckland, New Zealand.
And yet some had the audacity to insinuate that her tragic death was her fault because she “took the risk by going on a Tinder date”.
My argument is women should not have to carry weapons to protect themselves against men.
We shouldn’t have to plan our route meticulously, we should be able to listen to music as loud as we like when we walk.
We should be able to walk along any stretch of road, path, park, or even dirt track unaccompanied without feeling scared.
We should be able to wear whatever clothing we like, without the length of skirt being used as a criticism against us.
We should be able to walk alone day or night and feel safe.
Perhaps as well as protecting our daughters, it’s time we start educating our sons on violence against women.
Last year, Fabulous writer Hana Carter bravely wrote about her experience of being branded a "sl*t" and a liar after she was molested by her teacher at school.
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