Last week I walked back to my car in Battersea. It was 6:30, the air was bitter but the sky looked like melted peach ice-cream. The walk was around five minutes, seven, when I wear my leather shoes. Since march I haven’t walked home in the dark. When I was 17, I once just strolled around Shoreditch, 2am, headphones in, no worries in the world. Now, I tend to run between my parked car and front door after 7pm.
At 6:30 it wasn’t dark yet, but headlights were coming on and kids were heading to tescos for their Friday night snacks. Whilst mothers bustled their children home from school, skinny white women in matching workout sets walked their dogs and men in suits piled into the local pub, I was checking for security cameras.
Recently, I’ve been checking to see what cameras are following me. Most people want to avoid CCTV. However, I am actively looking for it.
I change the direction I walk to make sure I’m passing a camera, doubling back past shop windows to guarantee they caught me, I sometimes stare at people’s doors to see if they have that Ring doorbell that would document me, head up, eyes wide open, turning round every ten seconds.
As I walk, I think about what would be released to the public, what would be scrutinised by detectives, played over in my family’s mind. At least they could see where I was going, at least they couldn’t make assumptions about what I was wearing, or what time I was walking home, whether I had headphones on, if I was on the phone to a friend or partner.
What I am doing, essentially, is actively making it easier for the police to find me, if something happened to me. Leaving a trail of breadcrumbs that would be impossible to ignore.
When Sarah went missing, I refreshed my guardian app every thirty minutes. Her face is etched into my memory. Her route home played over in my head on repeat, a route myself and many others have taken before, convincing ourselves it was the safest option. That CCTV of her walking home.
Sarah Everard isn’t the first woman to be followed, kidnapped, raped and murdered, and she won’t be the last. So I ask myself, why have I suddenly become paralysed with fear. I am aware of why the cameras flash stronger, why the media coverage is so much bigger, why the police found her so fast, why people mourn more deeply. She was white, middle class, she worked in a normal job, she was, the ‘perfect victim’. If I am honest with myself though, about why I am so paralysed with fear specifically now, that’s the thing that really scares me.
It’s because she did everything right and it still happened. She ticked off every box that I go through before I walk home, something so natural to me it’s like turning the lights off before I go to sleep. I am so paralysed with fear, because every other subliminal excuse I made in my head when I heard of women who were murdered, kidnapped and raped, didn’t hold up now. The sexist narrative that I had been fed since boys would talk over me and laugh when I raised my hand in class, or since I had watched prince after prince lock up, manipulate and practically assault the princesses I was meant to admire, was now staring me in the face. My own ingrained sexism was now transparent. There was nothing that my mind could use to somehow protect me from something I knew was true anyway. It just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you wear, or where you go or what you drink. All that matters is that you are there, existing.
People told me, Oh honestly it is horrific but you don’t need to worry because that stuff really never happens! Police officers never normally would do something like that and honestly the chance of getting kidnapped or raped on your way home is slim to none! Its always the people around you.
As if that is supposed to comfort me. You are reminding me, that in all the places I am meant to feel safe, in fact, I am not.
I once asked my boyfriend what he thinks about when he walks home at night. He replied, what I am going to eat when I get in. if only it were that simple.
Sometimes, when I go to sleep at night, I replay that day, but imagine men don’t exist. Just to preface, this won’t be an ‘I hate men speech’ I love them, in fact, I adore them. But sometimes, I just like to examine what I would do differently. What I would wear, how I would talk. Yoga in the streets at 10pm and legs spread across from one tube door to the other. On that route home through Battersea, I would blast music through my headphones, stare at my phone and wear that skirt that shows the soft peach of the bottom of my bum. I would scream and spit and howl. I would let out a deep sigh that has been folded up and compressed deep in the corner of one of my lungs.
I still google Sarah all the time. I think of her when I drive through Poynders road and sometimes I still visit the bandstand where we flocked, flowers in hand, heavy with anger. I don’t just think of Sarah though, now I try to think of the women who I didn’t think of before. The ones we never see, the ones no one ever found, the ones who were made to stay silent, the ones who were failed. The ones whose names we won’t ever know. Sex workers, black women, Asian women, disabled women, women who are lost in the system. native American women who just disappeared, literally vanished, 6000 reports and only 116 cases logged, the Mexican teenage girls who are statistically the most likely to be kidnapped.
A lot of people have been asking recently, how do we fix this, what do we do, how do we end male violence against women, how do we change the narrative. There are a lot of answers, some I believe in, some I think are optimistic, the real answer is though I don’t really know, and I don’t need to know, its not my responsibility to find the answer.