Read the following statements and think about if these situations have ever happened to you, and if so, how often they happen.
I have felt unsafe walking alone at night.
I have felt unsafe walking alone during the day.
I have carried keys in my hand when walking alone to protect me.
I have taken a self-defense class to protect me.
I have locked the car when waiting alone in a parking lot.
I have felt unsafe to see a man ahead of me while I am walking alone.
I have felt unsafe walking or running alone in certain places.
I have felt unsafe or uncomfortable from strangers' comments about my looks.
I have felt unsafe wearing form-fitting or revealing clothing.
I have had someone ask if I wanted them to walk me somewhere (especially at night).
I have had someone insist on walking me somewhere.
I have had someone tell me not to go somewhere alone.
I have felt unsafe being alone with a man, especially if he has some kind of authority over me.
I have felt unsafe going on a first date with someone.
I have felt unsafe starting an intimate relationship with someone, or nervous about drawing physical boundaries.
I have felt unsafe about getting a ride from a man.
I have watched my drink at a bar or party to make sure no one puts anything in it.
Now consider your gender.
These are all things I have experienced, some more often than others, and some regularly. I attribute most of them to being a woman. I'm sure people of all genders feel unsafe in certain situations. But many women I've talked to have also experienced these things, and they seems to be closely tied to gender. Several men have expressed frustration and guilt that women so often feel unsafe when they, as men, don't. They wish it didn't feel this way for us, and I greatly appreciate that!
I was thinking about this last night as I was running after dark. I had no cell phone, and I had music playing loudly from my iPod as I ran into Carrboro, past the bustling downtown area and onto a lonely, dark street (sorry, Mom!). When I saw a hooded man walking slowly on the sidewalk in the shadows, I was definitely a bit frightened. Of course, I know that being randomly attacked is pretty unlikely. According to RAINN, the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, about 73% of sexual assaults are committed by a non-stranger, like a friend or a date. Looking back, the man I saw was probably one of my classmates on the phone with his mom. But I was still a bit scared for an instant there! Honestly, what scared me the most on my run were the two deer ran out in front of me in the dark. Woah!
I'm sure a lot of my fear of running alone, especially in the dark, near a stranger, came from the hubbub that surrounds women walking alone at night. "Don't walk home alone." "Call me when you get there." "I'll walk you home. No, really, I'll walk you home." I've heard a thousand times that I should always have an escort at night. (I still hardly ever follow this. Woops!) Also, I bet my involvement in sexual violence prevention makes me hyperaware of potentially threatening situations. But even women who aren't involved in those efforts have expressed fears like the ones mentioned above, so it's definitely not just me.
Why do we focus so much on the dangers of being attacked by someone random - when about 3/4 of the time the person who commits a sexual assault is known to the victim? That means we should be putting more effort into spreading awareness about and preventing assaults by friends or dates. I'm not denying that random attacks occur. Of course, the other 27% of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim does not know - so it does happen. Just not the majority of the time.
I am really interested to hearing people's responses to this post. Have you experienced any of these situations? Do you think your gender had something to do with it? What are other situations that you've felt unsafe that I didn't mention? Men, especially, am I wrong in assuming that most of these don't happen to you, at least not on a regular basis? And what can we do to switch the conversation from assaults by a stranger to the more common scenario of a friend, acquaintance, or partner taking advantage?