To Walk Alone at Night

Giant trigger warning for sexual harassment/stalking.

This world pisses me off most of the time, it really does. This is one of many reasons why.

Not so long ago I was making the journey to my local tube station that I regularly make, dressed in black sandals, a red cardigan, black leggings and a white sleeveless top. (Once you've stopped laughing at my total lack of fashion sense, please forgive me my description of my clothes. It does turn out to be vaguely relevant.) It was just after ten in the morning on a Monday, and to get there I had to pass through a wonderfully pretentious upper-middle-class area.

I'm not totally innocent; I've been sexually harassed before and I've been harassed on the street by men yelling at me about my smile. But what happened next - though it was mild and I know that it happens - did shock me, since it was my first experience with strangers doing this to me. (I've had people I know do the same, mostly to bully me.)

There was a white van driving down the road; I paid it no heed. It pulled over to the far side of the road, where I was walking, and slowed down. If my memory serves me correctly, the driver parked. I carried on towards the tube station. The van crawled along the far side of the road, more or less keeping pace with me, and at one point, while I was passing some workers, the driver motioned in my direction and said something; I can't remember what. I assumed he was speaking to the workers and continued on my way, but I was a little scared by this point and when I came to turn the corner to get to the station, I desperately hoped that he wouldn't turn with me.

He turned with me.

Thankfully we'd turned onto a slightly busier road and he stuck to the side that he should have been driving on, but all the same he pulled over and motioned for me to get in. I kept walking. He kept driving.

At this point I'm ashamed to admit that rather than confronting him somehow, or at least telling him to fuck off, I quickened my pace and hurried into the station, at which point he stopped following me. The rest of the day was happily spent in Hampstead buying books and ambling round the Heath in inappropriate footwear, but the incident stuck in my mind.

When I got home, instead of keeping my big mouth shut, I mentioned the events of the day to my mother, at which point she asked me whether I'd gotten in the van (clearly not, as I have enough brains to refuse the advances of creepy guys and since I came home in one piece). She also mentioned other things to me - like not dressing in a certain way lest men rape me (which I think was her trying to be facetious) and not walking alone at night.

I think it was those last two statements that offended me, and which I've been turning over in my mind for a fair while now. I wasn't wearing "provocative clothing" (whatever that actually is) that day, and even if I had been, it would have been the driver's fault for stalking me, not mine for wearing revealing clothes.

And frankly, I'm outright fucking offended by the suggestion that I shouldn't walk alone at night; I always have been. I make a point of walking alone through dark alleyways, and I've had fewer bad experiences there than I have had at school or walking around certain pretentious areas. I'm offended by the suggestion that because I'm a woman something bad might happen to me if I walk around on my own, so I need to travel with a group or have a chaperone. I was born with just as much inherent right to freedom of movement as anyone else, and I don't see why that should be taken from me just because I'm a woman. I don't see why I should have to live my life in fear of men, and I don't see why my movement should be restricted by travelling with others or staying in.

I am a woman and I stand up for my right to walk alone at night without having to be afraid. It's not some brave action or some outlandish demand; it's simply decency and common sense that everyone should be able to move around their area without fear.