I’m still afraid to walk home in the dark - GulfToday

I’m still afraid to walk home in the dark

Cellphones' torches glow during a vigil in London.

Cellphones' torches glow during a vigil in memory of Sarah Everard. (Supplied)

Almara Abgarian, The Independent

It’s 7pm and I’m walking through a park. The sun has set, so I stick to a lit pathway and keep a trained eye on the trees for any sudden movements. I am a 32-year-old woman who is afraid of the dark, and I’m angry about it.

The moment is intensified by the location; I am minutes from the Clapham Common bandstand, where thousands of people — myself included, albeit in reporting capacity — came together to honour the life of Sarah Everard.

Today marks a year since Sarah’s kidnapping and murder, and what a horrible year it has been.

To me, this incident especially strikes a chord because it’s too close to home; quite literally, I have spent the better part of a decade living in the area. In Clapham, I have been sexually harassed, catcalled and been forced to defend myself from unwanted advances — and in the past I have walked a route that is very similar to the one she took, many times.

In the past 12 months, many names have been added to the ever-growing list of women who have been killed by men; on average, it’s one every three days. That’s not counting the women who survive, with physical and psychological scars from domestic abuse, rape and assault. But we already know there is an epidemic of violence against women. What’s more worrying than being attacked — yes, there really is such a thing — is the fear of it happening seeping further into our lives.

The other day, a friend told me she is moving from London because the city that has been her home for five years feels unsafe. Another friend is looking for a new flat that is closer to a tube station so she won’t have to walk too far at night. Others are changing their running routes or downloading apps to track their movements. As for myself, I have installed a door camera for the first time in my life.

Women are being forced to actively make choices that disrupt their lives in order to protect themselves, because those who are tasked and trusted with doing so are failing or participating in the problem.

In the months since Sarah was killed by former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, confidence in the police dropped substantially; according to a YouGov survey released in October 2021, nearly half of Brits (48 per cent) were not confident in the police dealing with crime in their local area.

That same month, it was revealed that 2,000 police officers had been accused of sexual misconduct in the past four years. In two thirds of those cases there has been “no further action” taken.

Another figure worth noting is three: the number of police officers charged with sending “grossly offensive” messages to Couzens, and whose names have not been released. It’s not only the alleged crimes that concern me but the persistent lack of transparency.

We are continuously being told that the police are working to tackle violence against women. Yet here we are, a year down the line from one of the most high-profile murders committed by one of their own, and we’re more afraid than ever.

Cressida Dick has finally resigned as Met Police commissioner, but does her replacement have a plan for protecting women? One can only hope.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of being scared. Beyond fear, there is anger brewing across the UK, much of which was intensified following Sarah’s vigil on 13 March last year.

Witnessing this event remains one of the most harrowing and powerful experiences of my life. There was an eerie silence that grew louder as the hours wore on, with thousands of people taking a stand against a small group of officers who had surrounded the bandstand.

It was a display of love to another woman, another name, another face – one that could have been our own. The vigil wasn’t a violent scene but within hours, it would become one as women were arrested for what had been deemed an unlawful gathering by officers, which claimants have since argued was a breach of their human rights.

This one night, we were an unbreakable community demanding better. We demanded answers and we’re still waiting for them.

Despite everything that I have seen and read in the past year, I still harbour hope for the future. From “are you home yet?” texts to phone calls to get out of uncomfortable situations, women are used to being there for each other.

Thanks to the internet and social media, the global conversation around our right to feel safe is growing louder. I have seen incredible women lift each other up and call out abuse on and offline, and it’s a beautiful thing to witness. Perhaps it’s foolish to hope, but I believe that the power of our collective voices will eventually break through and be a catalyst for real change.

Yes, I’m still afraid — but at least I’m not alone in the dark.

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