Written by Nelli Eveliina Naukkarinen
On the evening of the 3rd of March 2021, Sarah Everard was walking home from a friend’s house. She never made it home, as she was kidnapped, raped and murdered by a police officer. Sabina Nessa was a 28-year-old primary school teacher, who after a night out, walked through a commonly used public park, she never made it home. The stories of Sarah and Sabinas is many of our worst nightmares. The feeling of unsafety many of us feel, when walking home alone at night can be sometimes indescribable. One in two women have reported feeling unsafe walking home alone in the evenings, compared to one in seven men, the number of women for reported insecurity is the same regardless of whether the location is a public road or a quiet area. Two out of three women between the ages of 16 to 34 have experienced some form of harassment within a period of 12 months, being it catcalling, yelling, unwanted sexual comments or advantages. 29% have reported feeling allowed within the past 12 months.
“I don’t think it never really hit me how common the fear of walking alone was until I was during my second year of uni talking to a friend, and I told her I wanted to go for a walk. She was really taken back and was like now, it’s dark outside. I was like yeah now I used to go walking all the time during the first year during the evenings it was really nice and couldn’t really understand what the issue was. She told me she just wouldn’t feel comfortable, due to men. She didn’t have to say anything more, as it then dawned on me, that the only reason before I had felt safe, was that I had gone to walks during corona lockdown, and there was literally no one else outside, and I always used that time to call with my family. So the feeling of safety I had, was kind of an illusion, as the world was shut down and there was no one anywhere, which as the world is is a pretty rare occurrence. That really made me quite sad, as it really did show me that the world was set up differently for us.” Female, 22
“Not necessarily about walking home alone, but when I decided to move abroad I looked at different cities and areas through this website to find housing. The website had all of these tools you could add to it, including statistics on the feeling of safety walking alone reported by women and the prevalence of sexual crimes such as rape. Back then I thought it was really cool that existed so I could look at what areas I should live in, now I just can’t get over how sad it is we need something like that”. Female, 22
“I’ve had many friends tell me they get “de-yassified” to walk or bike home as they want to try to minimize catcalling. I’ve been given a jacket to wear to walk home alone, not cos it was cold but to cover up as I had to walk past the red light district so there were going to be men there. I’ve been on the other side of a phone call when my friend has been having a lowkey panic attack, as she had to cross a courtyard to get home, and there we were men standing outside staring at her waiting for her to come outside. This should not be normal, it shouldn’t be that it’s always the responsibility of women to not get catcalled or assaulted, and that it is just something we have to know is gonna happen and be fine with it. Men know its wrong, there is no way they don’t”. Female, 22
The experience of being scared of walking home alone at night is quite a universal female experience. It has become a common habit to tell each other to text me when you are home, or call our friends or significant others while walking home alone, to feel some form of security. For a lot of people it might be difficult to understand the fear of being followed at night, it might seem paranoid or that maybe there are certain women that how to lure more harassers to their direction due to their behaviour or the way they dress. These are all things that have been said to me about myself or others when discussing the feelings of unsafety about walking home alone at night and it needs to be said right off the bat, the feeling of unsafety experienced by women when walking home alone at night, has nothing to do on who they are, what they are doing and what they are wearing, it is about power dynamics of society where due to rape culture all the blame and responsibility is turned to women to themselves try to prevent being victimized, rather than it being addressed on a societal scale as the issue is.
“When I was like freshly 18, I and my friend used to go to this nightclub in our area. We would always walk together to the bus stop, she would wait with me for the bus and then walk home alone, as she only hard to go to the end of the street and to the right and she was home. It was less than an 800-meter walk, and we lived in a very working-class innercity suburban with a lot of families, so this time of night was very quiet. Our route home consisted of going to a train station a few hundred meters from the club, going down to the platform, crossing it to the other side from where we would go up to this mall through where I would go to my bus stop. It was like an absolute tops 1 km walk all in total, through a very well light area, with multiple security cameras as its one of the biggest bus/train platforms in our area, and the mall also has night security as many people wait inside for their busses or trains. One evening we’re going home, and usually, to go home we had to go and as we approach the train station we see a guy. We dont think much of it, we’re just chatting and doing the normal don’t do eye contact so he doesn’t take that as an invitation to a conversation, and we walk past him. However, there was something off about this dude, I couldn’t shake the thought of it. Once we pass him, I look up to see his reflection on these screens that show when the busses go, and I see that as soon as we go past him he turns around and when we have a tiny bit of distance between us, he starts to walk after us. This made me kind of freak out, and I told my friend hey, this dude seems to have started to follow us. She freaks out, and I tell her we got to stay calm and keep walking, we had to see if the dude was just going to the train or actually following us. We start walking really fast and we keep checking throughout our walk if he is still following us. He fallows us through the train platform, up the stairs and through this tunnel we had to take to the mall. By the time we’re in the tunnel it’s clear, he is following us. I tell my friend hey look, it’s fairly clear so we have to figure out what to do and agree if we see guards anywhere, to go to them and tell them this dude is following us. We keep walking, and we dont see guards anywhere, so we agree we cant go on our separate ways, we have to stick together as that’s safer, so we together would go to her house. To get to her house we have to cross this courtyard outside the mall, and this little park, and as we are speed walking through the courtyard he is still there when we turn back, just in a very chill way walking. My friend is panicking by now, and so am I but I keep just thinking once we’re inside we’ll be okay. I try to tell my friend to just keep walking we’ll be okay and she is panicking. Once we get to the little park, we have an advantage cos it kind of is in a dead corner, and you cannot see it from the courtyard, at this point I decided to lie to my friend, to get her to run the rest of the way. I tell her shit I see him there run, kick off my heels to my hands and start running. She’s running before me, absolutely panicking and we’re screaming to just get to her house. We run to her backyard, and I slip on the rock we had to climb to her house, but I’m so panicky by now that I just get up and keep running, even tho I was bleeding and hurt my knee. We get into the house, and we look through the windows and dont see him. We decide I stay the night, rather than go back home and risk running into him again. I didn’t really sleep that night, and when I went home in the morning I was still quite spooked. Idk what that dude wanted, if he just wanted to mess with us or if he had some darker intentions, I was not about to find that night. Me and my friend have never really talked about the experience, I think there is this unspoken agreement between the two of us to not talk about it, as it just bring uncomfortable memories to the surface”. Female, 22
“During spring 2021, I was meeting some friends in a bar. I was running a bit late, and I did not have a bike, so I decided instead of waiting for the tram and being more late I’d just walk fast and be less late. When I was rushing through the streets of The Hague passing people, I noticed a group of maybe 4-6 guys I’d have to pass. Once I started to pass the guys, they saw me and started talking to me. They were saying the usual ‘hey girl, how ya doing’ type of stuff. They start hollering at me as I passed them, and while I started walking in front of them, they began to get increasingly inappropriate. The basic hey how you doing changed to yelling, whistling, kissing noises to them commenting about how fast I was walking. They started screaming, ‘run girl, get away from him, he is going to catch you’, which made me scared, as I thought one of them was going to sneak up on me and try to grab me or something, but I kept looking forward, as I did not want to give them the attention they were seeking. While others kept screaming, ‘he’s going to catch you,’ others started to loudly bark at me, which led to them all loudly yelling and barking behind me. But I just kept walking, as I was scared; what could I do against a group of guys. I kept walking trying to pretend as if there was not a group of men barking at me while I was walking on the street in broad daylight”. Female, 22
“When I was in my first year of uni, I was walking home with a group of people after a night out for my friend’s birthday. I was walking with this one girl, behind the group of others and while talking two guys walking home injected themselves into the conversation. We decided to just ignore him and kept talking and decided to avoid looking at them. While walking, in a bit we were going past this little sideroad and the dude who had injected himself into the convo jumped from there to scare us. He laughed, ran to his friend and they went their merry way. This really hit me, cos it showed me that a lot of guys like playing and messing with girls, when they know walking home alone at night is scary, and really uncomfortable.” Female, 21
Now I am not saying that women do not hold any responsibility, everyone holds a certain level of responsibility for their actions and behaviour, however, it needs to be said, becoming a victim of a crime, which unwanted sexual advantages, comments, yelling, harassment, touching are a crime, is not on the victim. We do not put blame on a victim of a violent crime, on the role they played in their stabbing, hence we should not hold the double standard on sexually motivated crimes, that somehow being groped while walking home is the person’s fault, as they wore shorts. The attitudes we have on sexually based crimes in society are based on old patriarchal notions on how women and feminine people should behave. Many people’s attitudes and behaviour toward these crimes, are often based on the feeling of entitlement over people’s attention or the fact that crimes like harassment are the least reported crimes or least likely to be prosecuted, hence creating an environment and a sense of that people can behave inappropriately as there is no consequences to their actions. Its clear without saying there should be consequences to peoples actions, furthermore there needs to be an introduction of education on boundaries, consent, and what is and what is appropriate behaviour. Furthermore, the way we treat victims of assault and what we see as assault on a societal level needs to change, as when we don’t believe people, when we define only very specific or narrow concept as assault or rape, we unnecessarily narrow and disregards what experiences “deserve” to be defined as sexual violence. Catcalling is not a compliment, it’s a power move from people to scare others, it is abusing the power balance set by society where the victim carries the responsibility for the crime and unjustice they face. It’s a terrifying experience, that people use as they know there is no consequences to screaming at someone in the street, there is no consequences for making someone uncomfortable or fearful.
“The first time I got followed home I was 13, but it was certainly not the last. To preserve my younger self a bit, I would rather bring forward a story that is a bit more recent. I was 18yo, my phone was broken, and I was a bit tipsy. I took the first train home, by myself, at 5:30am for the first and last time. I sat by myself and tried to shrink as much as possible, but a young girl by herself is too good of a prey apparently. I was approached by a middle aged man, clearly drunk, who sat across from me and started questioning me intensely. I tried to navigate this with equal parts measure of agreeableness, so I wouldn’t get punched, and aloofness, so I wouldn’t appear as inviting. Eventually the man asked me if I was a virgin, and proceeded to dump a series of gross, explicit statements on me. Something like “virgins are the best”. I panicked and did not reply so he left me alone. When I got to my train station, at 6am, it was pretty much empty… Until I saw this man at the end of it. My heart stopped and I looked around to find the station empty, except for a teenage boy, whom I approached in panic. I begged him to pretend to be my friend, and he went along with it, laughing a bit at my odd request. As we walked by the man, he tried stopping me to say something. But I interrupted, saying me and my “friend” had to leave. He proceeded to start yelling, claiming that “he knew what we were going to do” and detailing obscene scenes. At this point, I didn’t have a phone and I was going to walk home alone… But I realized if I did that I would be raped, maybe even worse. So I decided to get a taxi, and went to the ATM to get cash for that purpose. The drunk man followed me to the ATM and started cornering me, not allowing me to leave. I remember feeling my blood go cold, and my heart beating at my mouth. Eventually I got away and I went back to the teenage boy from before, who saw all of this happening. He then saved my life, by offering to take me in the uber he had ordered. He showed me the route, and while a bit off from me, I immediately said yes. As the uber arrived and we got in, the other man was still lurking around, staring at us (me?). As I was closing the car door, he went on an insult rampage, yelling obscenities at us (me?). I got home nearly at 7am, having had to take a much longer route than usual through fields. It also started raining, and I was drenched when I got home. But I rather be drenched than dead. I never took that 5am train alone again.” Female, 21
“Last Friday night, I went babysitting for a new family in a city I didn’t know. Having spent the last year babysitting for multiple families all over the city I live in, I did not fear the idea of going to a new city and doing the same thing. Moreover, the city in itself has a good reputation and is known to be where “rich people” live. I told myself that this was a good opportunity to meet new families and see new places. Even though I knew that there were ongoing bus strikes and that I didn’t have a SIM card in my phone, I was confident in my decision that I could go babysitting for this family. I took screenshots of the route, the names and times of the buses I would have to take, and the streets I would have to walk in to get there. I told myself that if the last bus got cancelled, I would just go back to the family’s house and order a taxi. The babysitting was fine – a little underwhelming – and when I returned to the bus stop for the last bus I waited for a while. Having no SIM card, I couldn’t switch on my 4G and see if the bus was cancelled or delayed, so I waited. Having no SIM card, I couldn’t call a taxi and ask them to come pick me up. After a long wait, I started seeing women driving by and the thought of hitchhiking didn’t seem so daunting. And then out of nowhere, two men stopped by the bus stop and started exchanging seats. I decided to ask them where they were going. They didn’t seem to speak very well English but they nodded when I said the name of my city. So I decided to ask them for a hitchhike. They said yes and I got into the front seat of the car. The situation was chaotic because they didn’t seem to know where to go and neither did I, and then there was the language barrier. In the beginning I thought that maybe they had been drinking because they were showing a little bit too much excitement. The driver had been looking at me for a while, and in a more quiet moment, when I noticed that he was looking, he said to me “beautiful”. He said it slowly and sensually, while looking at me intensely. I immediately looked away and I stayed quiet. Then, the man behind me started talking again and started saying “fikke fikke fikke”. At first I didn’t really pay attention, I was mostly on my phone freaking out about the fact that my Google maps wasn’t loading. And then I started hearing “50 euros, 50 euros”. I turned around and saw the man in the backseat – 20 cm away from my face – take his right index and use it to penetrate the hole he had made with his left hand. At this point, I realized that they were asking me to have sex with them for 50 euros, and that they had just picked me up because they thought I was a prostitute. I said “no”. I said “no” again. I made a cross with my arms, turned towards them and told them “no”. I said to them “I am not a prostitute, no.” They started insisting. I continued to say “no” and I told them that they could leave me “there” if they wanted. The driver started making a U-turn and I didn’t know what was going on. Finally, he stopped and that’s when the man in the backseat got out of the car, opened the front door and told me to get out. I unbuckled my seatbelt and left the car. I ran to the car that was behind us and stopped it. I knocked on the side window, and the driver unlocked the car. I opened the door and yelled at him “please take me home, please take me home”. I told him that I didn’t know where I was and that I needed him to take me to Central Station. He said yes, and I got in the car. I told him that I had just gotten out of a car where two men thought I was a prostitute and “were asking me to do things”. I told him I was scared and I started crying. He said “it’s alright, I’ll take you to Central Station” and he started driving. On the way there, I continued to cry and he continued to tell me to breathe. He continued to tell me that I was safe, he continued to tell me that everything was alright. When we arrived, I thanked him and told him that he saved my life. He told me “no, you saved your own life”. I biked home to my place. Still shaking and in fear, I decided to take an Uber and spend the night at my friends’ place. On the way there, I told myself that this should have been the Uber I should have taken home.” Female, 20
Edited by Karolina Hajna, artwork by Olga Churilina