Walking Home at Night

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Walk fast, but try not to walk too loudly, you don’t want to do anything to draw attention to your presence.

No headphones allowed, even though listening to music might ease that niggling uneasiness.

In the winter, or the rain, a large scarf, a hat or a hood can affect your ability to listen. All your senses need to be sharp.

There is a delicate balancing act involved when determining where to position yourself on the path. You don’t want to be too close to the trees, the shadowy depths where danger can lurk, but you don’t want to be close to the road because you could be hauled into a car.

Walking along a dark, tree-lined street your eyes constantly scan your surroundings. When you spot someone, you have to quickly sum up whether they are an asset or a threat.

A couple or a group of girls are always welcome. Depending on their distance, you either speed up slightly so they are in shouting range, or slow down so you remain in their view.

Spotting a group of lads up ahead makes you slow your pace and hope they don’t notice you. At these moments, you walk gingerly, hoping your heels don’t make too loud a noise, their high pitched strikes against the pavement can sound as loud as a foghorn in the night.

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For me, walking in the city centre doesn’t instil the same sense of unease. It’s the suburbs, the shadowy streets and long roads without a soul that make me nervous.

For years I walked home from my best friend’s house late at night, a 15 minute walk that I would do in 10. It included walking past rows of houses, a few laneways and the long, treelined Griffith Avenue.

During the houses section, I would keep an eye on the ones with the lights still on. At about midnight, there would sometimes be eight houses before you saw one with a light on.

When I had to walk past a lone male, I stood tall, shoulders squared and my face positioned in what I hoped was a confident, slightly stern expression so they might decide not to pick me. I took heavier, quicker steps too, in an effort to give the impression that I’m stronger than I am.

Griffith Avenue was where Andrew Lyons attacked a girl walking home from one of the local pubs near my parents’ house. After it happened, I went from thinking I was letting paranoia get the better of me, to thinking I wasn’t being careful enough.

There is a section of the Avenue with no houses on one side. Instead, there is a small wooded area, dark and ominous.

When it comes to the dark, shadowy area, I grip my keys in my pocket, my phone in the other. Although it’s good to have your phone on you, it’s not a good idea to talk on the phone as you walk, because a rapist can sneak up on you when you’re distracted.

No looking at your phone at all, in fact. The bright light of your screen highlights your existence, and you don’t want that.

I grip the keys with the rounded end in my fist and the top pointing out between two fingers. When you do this over and over, you also consider how you would actually use your key. Which way should the jagged bit be? What sort of motion would I make if someone came up to me? I like to take it in my left hand with the jagged end closest to me, so that I could make a punch-like motion with the key if needs be.

After the Lyons assault, I thought about how inadequate my house key really were, especially when attached to my frankly weak hand. I considered perfume or deodorant. A quick spray of either would distract an attacker, and hopefully momentarily blind them. But then, do you forgo the key to hold the perfume?

The second you make it home, the text has to be sent. It’s a horrible feeling to be waiting for that text if it doesn’t come as expected.

“Hey, made it home safely! Nite! xx”

That’s the rule, the girl rule. The one that will get you a whispered phone call if you forget to send it. Because, really, it’s up to us to look after ourselves, isn’t it?

 

Watching Niamh Horan on Brendon O’Connor’s Cutting Edge deny rape culture exists in Ireland, and hearing her claim the very real nervousness women feel is “scared little mouse syndrome” inspired this post.

Rape culture and the risk of sexual assault exists in Ireland, anyone who denies this is simply out of touch.

Walking home alone at night means taking precautions for your safety. It doesn’t mean you will be attacked, or that we are all terrified of being raped by every man that passes us. What it means is that we are taught from a young age that we need to protect ourselves against rape. And unfortunately, we do.

 

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