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Don’t go anywhere: Risk management for women

You leave your house very early in the morning. It could be anywhere between 6am and 8am, but it’s mostly around 6.30am. You take the bus to work. The streets are deserted. Most mornings, your boyfriend walks your dog down the road beside you to the bus stop. Some days, you are on your own. On your days off work, you would like to walk your dog across town at 6am, the route you would take in the daytime when there is hustle and bustle, but maybe it isn’t safe enough when it is early. There aren’t enough people about.

There are shady looking characters that lurk around the streets in the morning. You get nervous when you see them. You wonder should you alter your route to the bus stop but each route you would take would require you to walk down a street that might be a little bit too desolate at that hour. You need to weigh up the risk more.

You love the summer, because when you are going to and coming from somewhere, the days are lighter and longer and it means that you can see further ahead and further behind you. You used to only walk with your keys in your hand if you were alone at night.

You do it in the daytime now too – ever since you read about that woman who was attacked in broad daylight in the park. A 19 year old man pushed her in the river. She fought him off. You would like to walk your dog in the park at the back of your house but it is too quiet, too empty and too risky. A man told you on the beach last week about how he lets his dog off-lead at 5.30am in the morning when there’s no one around so she can get a good run. Your leashed dog is jealous of his dog. You are jealous of him.

You would not go to a deserted beach at 5.30am in the morning.

It would be too dangerous. What is it like to be completely alone on a beach and not be scared?  You do not know. You could go to the beach on your own of course, but if something happened people would say “that really wasn’t wise” and “what was she doing on a beach on her own at half five in the morning?”

You do not really go anywhere alone between 10pm at night and 6am. There is an unspoken agreement between you and your boyfriend that he will meet you from the bus or train if it is after 8pm, but definitely if it is after 10pm. You are jealous of the time that your boyfriend has with his thoughts when he wanders alone through empty streets before coming to meet and/or protect you on the way home.

You are jealous but you are glad he is there.

Your house is a ten minute walk from the nightclub, but you take a taxi at 3am. You use an app to take the taxi, because you don’t know who you are flagging down on the road. You text your Mam who is a bad sleeper and probably awake anyway to let her know you are in a taxi and on the way home. You are glad there is cctv outside the pub across from your house. You text your Mam again and tell her you are in your house. You wait for the texts from your friends to tell you that they’re home. Your boyfriend comes home from football and pints with the lads. He walked. He kisses you goodnight and goes to sleep but is not woken by the ping ping of his friends whatsapping him to tell them they are home ok. You envy their carelessness. They will not feel guilty for coming home and falling asleep straight away and forgetting to text their friend. They do not have to.

You lie in the space between sleep and wake until the last message is received from your friend to let you know she’s home ok. Her battery had died so you were panicking over nothing. That taxi driver was fine after all.

You take the bus to work but it’s busy so you can scan the seats for a space beside a woman. There are none, so you sit beside the man who looks the least creepy but you know that even that might not be a safe bet as you recall the time a friendly old man who did not look weird at all sat beside you on the bus when you were 19. You are in the window seat. He asks you about university and keeps touching your arm, but you feel he would think you impolite if you told him how uncomfortable it is making you. He gently places his hand on your left breast as if it is no big deal while he is talking to you and you are so shocked you have to get off the bus twenty miles from your house and ring your friend to collect you. While you are waiting you ask yourself over and over again, did that really happen? It happened.

Now you sit as close to the driver as possible but it sometimes means a split-second judgment call on whether the man in the seat beside your prospective seat looks like a weirdo. You wonder which seat is the safest. You text your friends to let them know you made the last bus.

Ten years later, you feel an uninvited hand brush your bottom as you stand waiting to cross at the lights. He looks you in the eye after and crossed the road. You wonder if that was an accident but you know that you do not accidentally touch someone with the palm of your hand while waiting for the green light that indicates it is safe to cross the road. You sit beside Molly Malone and watch him until he disappears and wondered if you should run after him but what would you say if you caught up? Would anyone believe you anyway? Something similar happened to your friend recently while walking her dog beside the canal. You are all running the gauntlet. Molly stands still. She has seen it all.

You wear longer cardigans and longer shirts now. You wear longer coats like a flimsy shield. Summer is good because the days are longer, but the coats are shorter or not there at all so it’s a catch-22 really. You remember how these things happened during the daylight and wonder why you ever thought daylight was a defence in the first place.

You go home and make dinner. You feel safe. Your house is your fortress. You remember when it wasn’t. You think of a time, in a former life, when someone else lived there. You hear the names he called you and the sound of the walls he punched. Daylight was no use to you then and you try not to think about it. There is a knock at the door but you aren’t expecting anyone so you ignore it. It could be anyone really. You wonder why pepper spray is illegal in Ireland but remind yourself to get the small tin of wasp-killer spray from under the sink and keep it in your handbag. You read that it does the same thing. You wonder is there a point to any of these Oprah magazine safety tips at all. You feel you should be more defiant. You double check the doors and windows are locked.

When you wake, you quietly wake up your boyfriend.

You need to get the bus to work.

7 responses »

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about risk assessment. And why it is ok for women to be caged in the house, to not have the opportunity to be adventurous. I’m trying to be cautious, but I refuse to give up all my freedom.

  2. So with you on this. SO with you on this. I’m in my eighth decade now and know that if anything happens to me, the police, the media, and the public will be eager to figure out how it’s my fault, not my attacker’s fault. What was I wearing, why was I in that place at that time, what did I say or do that “triggered” or “seduced” my attacker, why was I alone, did I react inappropriately (and no reaction is entirely appropriate: women have been criticized for effective defense on the grounds that the defense might not *always* work for all women), etc, etc.

    If I’m attacked at home, attention will focus on whether I had done “everything possible” to secure the home, or if I had attracted interest by “showing too much wealth” outside the home (wearing jewelry, driving a nice car) or by being “too nice” to repairmen, movers, men who had observed the home (“too nice” may simply mean common politeness.) Are my routines “too predictable” and thus allow someone to plan his attack at the right moment, or “not predictable” meaning I came home to find the burglar in my house and so it’s my fault he took that as an invitation to rape? Reasons and excuses for the criminal will be sought (and used in court, sometimes successfully) while suspicions are directed at the female victim.

    It’s not just that we’re attacked more (though that’s bad enough), it’s that we’re also blamed for being attacked…while men can not only walk the dog after dark or before dawn–if they *are* mugged while doing so, they won’t have to listen to the scoldings for being out in the dark hours alone. I’ve linked to this post in my own rant on the topic in another venue.

  3. When I was a student in the 1970s, I went on reclaim the night marches and bravely cycled through the night alone after a party or from the clubs with the false hope that all will change and I am part of it, one of a million feminists.
    When I became a mother in the 1980s, I vowed that my daughter would be able to walk the streets in safety any time day or night.
    When she started to go out by herself, well shit, that’s when the reality hit me. If anything, it has gotten so much more dangerous.

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  5. In the late 1970s and early ’80s I lived in a big city. I went to take back the night marches. I biked and walked and took public trans everywhere. I was lucky. In 1985 I left the big city. Since then I’ve lived in a place that’s screwed up and doomed in so many ways, but my dog and I can walk through the woods at any hour, including late at night, and I feel almost no fear. Usually the tradeoffs seem worth it. I sleep at night without locking my door. I walk when and where I feel like it. All women should be able to live like this, but I know most of us can’t.

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