Back in 1991 I was living in London. My sister and I took a small apartment in Vauxhall, which was a notoriously scary and often dangerous suburb, but it was all we could afford. Men (and occasionally women) wandered the streets at all hours of the day swilling Tennents XL lager out of paper bags begging for beer money and then abusing you if you declined the request. Gangs of wayward teenagers roamed about looking for trouble. There was an assault or a robbery every other day. All the shops had protective wire mesh over their windows. It was common to get catcalled, which weirdly I didn’t mind so long as it was from a distance. It was a gloomy place really.
One evening I watched a TV programme about violence against women. Its main aim was to give advice on what men could do to make women feel safe when they were walking on the streets. They provided a stack of statistics on the frequency of assault and rape. It was unnerving viewing. Whilst confirming that 90% of men are good people (and of course they are), the other 10% (according to the show) were dangerous and without values of any kind*. Suggestions for men to comfort women included crossing the street and walking slightly ahead of a girl if they found themselves there at the same time and for women to carry their keys through their fingers as some form of primitive weapon should they be attacked.
A week or so later, walking home in the early evening, the programme was floating around in my brain so I had my keys at the ready (no headphones in those days). It was winter, dark, as cold as a witch’s tit, there was a heavy fog curling around me and then I heard footsteps. They weren’t those of a woman and immediately I became panicky. Then the fellow behind me crossed the street, strode ahead, looked back at me and gave a smile and a hat tip.
“He watched the same programme!” I thought.
Two seconds later and about 6 houses from my home a poor, sweet, innocent man stepped out of his house and onto the pavement in front of me. My instant reaction was to lurch forward and stab him with my keys.
“What the fuck?” he cried. I had drawn blood and he was clutching his stomach.
From that moment on it was a pantomime of my profusely apologizing, us dancing around one another whilst I tried to ascertain the extent of the injury with him looking totally bewildered.
And then he said, “It’s clear you’re very upset and I’m OK really, it’s just a graze. Come inside and I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
I agreed but just as I was about to do so I second-guessed his motives. What the? I’d just stabbed the man and here I was suddenly thinking he might be a lunatic rapist even though he’d had the decency to try and calm me down. I hated myself for feeling this way but still declined the offer and headed home. A couple of days later I dropped a little card of apology through his letterbox. I couldn’t bring myself to deliver it in person.
With the recent death of Eurydice Dixon this memory came to the fore. Whilst women absolutely have the right to feel safe on the streets and more needs to be done to ensure this, the Victorian police were correct when stating that all people need to take responsibility for their own safety, as well as the safety of others, in conjunction with their efforts to reduce crime. To my mind this is not victim-shaming nor ignorant or ill-judged advice. There will always be bad people (male and female) out there and I for one will continue to teach my children how to be aware of any potential dangers and always take measures to protect themselves. It’s just common sense.
Ideally, we would all wander the streets at any time, day or night, smiling at each other and greeting each other warmly with good intentions. I hope that day is soon.
Have you ever accidently assaulted someone?
* I’d suggest it’s probably the same for women.