The outpouring on social media about the appalling case of Sarah Everard, from women across the country, reflects that in each of our minds this violence could have happened to our sister, our daughter, our colleague or our friend (‘Always with keys out’: hundreds of women tell of fear of walking alone, 11 March).
We have spent years being taught what we, as women, should do to keep ourselves safe. As 12-year-olds at an all-girls’ secondary school, we were given a specific lesson in how to avoid attack. We were taught to carry a key poking out of our fists as we walk, to sit near the bus driver, to choose brightly lit streets. We were each given a rape alarm. My brothers attended the equivalent boys’ school. There was no equivalent lesson.
These are messages about personal safety that are often passed from woman to woman. They are well-intended and come from a place of care and love, but how come it is still so widely accepted in society that it is a woman’s responsibility to prevent an attack?
In the UK, one in four women will experience domestic abuse and one in five will experience sexual assault during her lifetime. The number of rape prosecutions is falling year-on-year despite a much greater rise in the number of cases being reported, according to the Rape Monitoring Group.
While we teach women to adapt their lives to keep safe, there is little work being done to educate men against chauvinistic attitudes or aggressions, such as wolf-whistling, that make so many environments hostile for women.
It’s time that as a society, rather than teach women to live in fear, we address the attitudes, behaviour and violence that lie at the root of it. There is no comfort in this being a rare event. It should not be luck that we make it home from a walk.