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'As A Woman, I’m Sick And Tired Of Feeling Unsafe On The Streets'

'As A Woman, I’m Sick And Tired Of Feeling Unsafe On The Streets'

Rosie Humphrey explains why Sarah Everard's disappearance has been triggering for so many women.

The Tyla Team

The Tyla Team

Words by Rosie Humphrey, 24, from London

I can't remember the first time I realised I "shouldn't" walk alone at night.

But I do remember being 11 and wearing a bra with my tank top for the first time. I remember how, as I walked down the street in broad daylight, a succession of strange men beeped their car horns at me from the safety of their vans.

In that moment, I decided I would keep my bra straps covered next time.

The first time I went clubbing, my mum insisted I got a taxi home despite the journey being a seven-minute walk from our house in the small city of Durham.

Like many other women, I felt a sickness in my stomach today when police confirmed the human remains found in Kent woodland were those of Sarah Everard. She was a Durham University graduate herself, but this wasn't the only time Sarah and I would have walked the same streets.

Sarah Everard went missing after walking home from a friend's house in south London (Handout)
Sarah Everard went missing after walking home from a friend's house in south London (Handout)

Last year I lived 12 minutes' walk from the spot of Sarah's disappearance. I walked her exact route, from Clapham Common station to where she vanished, every single day on my way home from work.

For more than half the year this walk was in the dark, sometimes at 7.30pm, but often later. Like Sarah, I hoped the security of the main road, well-lit streets and phone calls to loved ones would protect me. In hindsight, I was just lucky.

Since the tragic news of Sarah's disappearance, thousands of women have come forward with their experiences of street harassment and the myriad ways we are told to modify our behaviour to remain safe.

Whether it's gripping keys between our knuckles, making fake phone calls or ducking into corner shops on the way home, women are acutely aware of their risk to danger and that bears a certain heaviness to our lives. And quite frankly, we are tired.

Rosie says she's feared for her safety since the age of 11 (
Rosie Humphrey)

A report this week confirmed that 97 per cent of young women in the UK have been sexually harassed, with 80 per cent of women of all ages experiencing sexual harassment in public places.

With lockdown reducing the number of people on the streets, going to the shops or exercising alone can be anxiety-inducing for women who fear increased levels of harassment.

Just like men, women of all ages should feel safe to enjoy public spaces but since lockdown, 33 per cent of young girls reported to have stopped going outside at some point due to concerns of public harassment and abuse.

"Walking is the only freedom that we have right now and Sarah Everard's disappearance has shown that women can't even enjoy that safely", commented Elle Rudd, a senior social producer at Metro.

Rosie explains why news of Sarah's death has struck a chord with so many young women (
Rosie Humphrey)

Whilst it's incredibly rare for a woman to be abducted on the street, this isn't a bolt out of the blue and we shouldn't treat it like one.

It's not good enough to tell women to know when a situation "isn't safe"; the onus shouldn't be on us to guarantee we won't come to harm. Violence against women is endemic and requires material, systemic changes to eradicate this deep-rooted problem. Taking the darker, more dangerous route home won't kill us - but predatory men will.

The deep shock of Sarah's death has been felt by all of my female friends. Perhaps this, more than other cases, hits home because Sarah could have been a friend, a colleague or a loved one living just a stone's throw away.

Maybe it's more chilling because we'd forgotten that the precautions we take as women aren't excessive, they're not a by-product of paranoia or an overactive mind, but in most cases, they're life-saving and necessary. The sad news of Sarah Everard's death is another shocking reminder to women of their limitations in the world.

As girls we grow up attuned to social cues and bound to curfews, an innate kind of rulebook, knowing that one miscalculation could cost us our safety. Except it's never a miscalculation, is it?

Rosie says women are tired of being told to modify their behaviour (
Rosie Humphrey)

Like many, Sarah did nothing wrong. I feel so sad for Sarah and the life that she deserved. She was more than someone's daughter, sister or girlfriend, she was a human being who had a fundamental right to be able to walk home. She is one of us, she is all of us.

Featured Image Credit: Rosie Humphrey