'don't get raped' is not advice i can take
Why the persistent narrative of being unsafe as a woman does more harm than good
By Elsa Pearson
Illustration by Elsa Pearson
This Christmas I was working at a Christmas party with my best friend. Before I went, my dad sat me down and told me to be very cautious.
He wanted the address and contact details of the house, told me not to drink any alcohol and to not let myself be alone in a room with any men. Before our conversation I was really excited about going, I knew my best friend would be there and I would have fun. After our conversation I felt anxious. As it turns out, the Christmas party was very fun, I drank a lot of champagne and it was an easy £50. Obviously, my dad’s advice came from a place of love, but I find it difficult to deal with when it seems the only effect it has is to make everyday tasks more difficult.
Once, on the phone to my dad as I was walking home from university, he told me never to walk home on my own after dark. This bothered me, not only because it was already dark, but because I was not sure how else I could get home, when I finished uni at 7 and the sun sets at 5.
More seriously though, I don’t live with my friends but I do like to see them in the evenings. Going to pub becomes inherently unsafe because walking home alone at night puts me at risk. This genre of conversation is not a uniquely female territory, but what bothered me more than the fact that my brothers could do the same thing without feeling at risk, was that my dad could give me this advice having no idea the burden it carries, as he has never needed to experience it. He hangs up the phone and I continue walking home, but now I feel vulnerable.
I am very much aware of what can happen from the stories we hear and read online and in the news. I know what I can and can’t do and do everything within my power to keep myself safe. But being told by anyone not to do the things I have to do (and want to do) every day because I am a woman, does little but increase my discomfort. Of course, wanting anyone you hold close to be safe is a sign of love, yet these words of warning when persistent have the power to turn every space into a danger zone for women.
Bad things can happen anywhere, and at any time. Without ignoring this fact and in full consideration that walking home alone puts anyone at risk, 8 out of 10 rape victims actually know their perpetrator; this dark alley rape horror story is therefore not as common as it seems. What’s more, being at risk when you are walking home alone is a unisex problem.
In fact, according to a Crime Survey in England and Wales by the Office of National statistics, men are more likely to be the victims of violence, robbery and vehicle-related theft than women, and yet the same degree of vulnerability is never imposed on them, or discussed. Perhaps this is because according to the report, women were over five times as likely as men to have been sexually assaulted, yet this does not diminish the unisex risk of walking home alone. The conversation of male vulnerability to crime seems to be absent in this respect, and something that needs to be made aware of.
As women we are well aware of the risk our bodies bring. But being constantly told you should not do something or go somewhere potentially does more harm than good. When I'm walking home from somewhere in the dark, I know to walk the safer, busier route and how I can protect myself in the best way possible. Yet being told I'm unsafe is not included in this list; being told I'm unsafe only makes me feel anxious and more vulnerable than I am.
It is the persistent feeling of vulnerability that is imposed on every woman and burdens us every day: Tragedy porn articles about women being murdered while travelling alone are liked and shared and encourage women not to get their passport renewed:
Perhaps we must question if this persistent narrative is necessary. Bad things happen, but please stop telling me I’m next.
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