Walking home alone

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It's 11.30 on a weeknight. I'm on the train, coming home from catching up with my friends. I'm on the phone with one of them as I move to the doors. 'Yeah, I'm right to walk home,' I tell my worried friend. 'The train's pulling up the station now.'

Woman walking alone at nightI said that too loudly. I glance behind me and there are two men standing there. As I get off the train, I clutch my umbrella to ward off any potential attackers. Not that I would be able to do much. Probably just hit them in the shin and run away.

Once I was walking home from primary school when I heard someone running behind me. I felt hot with primal, deep down fear and I started to scream when I felt someone touch my back. 'Woah!' my brother said after I yelled at him. 'Why were you so scared? It's the daytime.'

We learn vigilance so early. We are told to be 'responsible for our own safety', like it's not already ingrained from every time your brother has been told to 'have a good time' while you're told to 'be safe'. I am, most of us are. Safety practices are so second nature I don't really think about them. I walk the brisk stride of someone who wants to look purposeful; no earphones.

I was cautiously optimistic when Victoria police said in response to an attack that they were 'focusing on the male offenders who are involved in this'. But then not long after the NSW police posted a Beyoncé parody of 'Single Ladies' on Facebook. One step forward, one step back.

As I cross the street, I have my phone ready in my hand. What happened to Eurydice Dixon and Jill Meagher is a nightmare come true. For a woman living in Melbourne, it's entirely too close for comfort.

But an unknown attacker in a park or on the street rare, statistically. Thirty-nine women have been murdered this year, most of them by men known to them. I know we are not truly safe anywhere. And it not just straight white women who have to practice safety. It's LGBTQ+ people and Muslim women, cases that often don't get front page coverage. I remember the times I've taken off my rainbow badges after Pride. As I walk, I think about all the women whose names I don't know.

 

"There will always be someone drunker than me or someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't want anything to happen to her as much as I don't want it to happen to me."

 

During the summer months, it's easier. The days are longer. But then winter rolls around. Then, without severely restricting your own freedom of movement, it's hard to keep to a nighttime curfew. You need to stay for university or work or you want to go out with friends. So you bite back the resentment at being treated like a Victorian lady who requires an escort. It's all very well meaning.

But maybe there's no one available and you don't have enough money for a car or an Uber. No choice left but public transport and walking. You could always shell out hundreds of dollars on self-defence classes. There's a privilege in being 'safety conscious'.

I know these streets; which side has the better streetlight. The light reflects in puddles in a way that's beautiful in a way that I can't capture with a smartphone camera. A football field is lit up like a stage. I stop to look at the stars, or at possums running along phone lines. There is a peacefulness here.

I often think about the Sylvia Plath quote: 'Yes, my consuming desire is ... to be a part of a scene, anonymous, listening, recording — all this is spoiled by the fact that I am a girl, a female always supposedly in danger of assault and battery ... Yes, God, I want to talk to everybody as deeply as I can. I want to be able to sleep in an open field, to travel west, to walk freely at night.'

Travel is something I've always preferred to do alone. There's a pleasure to solo travelling, the ability to dictate your own pace. To reflect, to sing to myself, to mentally draft my next piece of writing. This is always counterbalanced by the idea that I'm being irresponsible, taking my life into my own hands.

But even the best safety measures won't protect me from violence and they don't address the real problem. There will always be someone drunker than me or someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't want anything to happen to her as much as I don't want it to happen to me. We're doing the best we can. We're not the ones who need to change our behaviour.

On the tram ride home from Eurydice Dixon's memorial, my sister and I met a man wearing a fluffy pink jumper, like a child's blanket, with print balloons and pom poms attached. When my sister commented on it, he said, 'When I was getting dressed, I just thought this was the least threatening clothing possible.' One step forward.

After I get through my front door and take off my shoes, I send a 'home safe' text.

 

 

Neve MahoneyNeve Mahoney is a student at RMIT university. She has also contributed to Australian Catholics and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Neve Mahoney

 

 

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Existing comments

Thank you Neve.At 70 I still walk home alone.It's like crossing a road: there will always be someone but...
margaret | 09 August 2018


Thanks Neve. So good to read beautiful writing, so simple, so immediate, so pertinent to so many people.. walking at night alone in a city. As a woman. Totally aware.. the way we must have all done in a jungle. But now it is fear of 'people'. And some men will feel it too.
Karen Alexander | 10 August 2018


Nice work, Neve. Chin up! Be not afraid.....
Michael Furtado | 10 August 2018


Thanks Neve, sadly our fears are realistic enough. I am an older disabled man, slow, weak and needing a stick. A while ago visiting in Melbourne I was walking back to my accommodation after dark, conscious of a couple of young woman looking back at me, keeping their distance. I can't blame them, no reason for them to trust my appearance, but I was thinking how much safer I would have felt if we could have all walked together.
Russell | 11 August 2018


On at least 3 occasions I can recall shuddering at the thought that the woman I was approaching in a dark street or park viewed me as a threat and either ran or clutched her bag . I felt like calling out to reassure her that I wasn't one of those men - but obviously that would simply compound the fear. What is a decent man supposed to do?
AURELIUS | 12 August 2018


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