Helping Women Feel Safer
Violence against women isn’t just “their” problem. Men need to become a part of the solution so that women in danger feel better supported. You’d be surprised at how some subtle shifts in your behavior can help women feel safer when they’re in public.
Think it’s not a big deal?
Well, A 33-year-old woman named Sarah Everand was reported missing on March 3rd of this year in London. Sadly, she was found dead about a week later. The main suspect in the killing was a London Metropolitan police officer.
News of Everand’s murder sparked outrage in Britain and beyond. There were protests led mostly by women with the goal to “reclaim the streets”. One of those protests was even violently broken up by police because it violated lockdown restrictions. Images of yellow-jacketed officers shoving a woman to the ground and forcibly arresting her only highlighted the issue of violence perpetrated against women.
Often, the authorities try to place blame on the women or give them unrealistic guidance about how to stay safe. The general guidelines for women who feel threatened is to simply stay at home. As if hiding from the mean streets is a suitable solution to stemming the rising tide of gender-based aggression.
Sarah Everand took all necessary steps to avoid being targeted. She was traveling on a well-lit street. She wore high-visibility clothing and was aware of her surroundings. Tragically, it wasn’t enough to save her life.
In the year 2000, the Department of Justice reported that 1.9 million American women are assaulted every year. Of all the respondents to the National Violence Against Women Survey, 17.6% of women reported being the victim of rape.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the issue by forcing women to remain in unsafe living conditions and/or seek marginally safe means to access the limited number of communal outlets for work and leisure.
It’s true that women are more likely to be assaulted or sexually abused by a family member or partner. Yet, violent crimes against women by strangers remains an ever-present threat. Violence against women in the post-COVID era is being called “the shadow pandemic”.
It’s undeniable that there are elevated levels of panic and stress related to the current economic, political and social problems facing women. You can see it in their eyes as they pass you on the street, almost holding their breath until you pass. It’s terribly sad, but men can help women feel safer. Women don’t have to stay inside.
Here’s What Men Can Do to Make Women Feel Safe and Supported
1. One of the most important things you can do is become aware of the issue of gender-based violence. If you see a woman in danger, being harassed or bothered, don’t just sit on the sidelines. Walk over and get involved. Support her by telling the assailant that you’re going to call the police.
2. If you happen to find yourself walking in public and you encounter a woman walking alone, adjust your body language. Take your hands out of your pockets. If your paths appear that they might cross, then create some distance between the two of you or cross the street.
3. If you’re walking behind a woman, try not to match your pace with her. She will most likely sense your presence and try to change her pace, either by quickening her steps or slowing down so that you overtake her. Again, you can simply cross the street, but don’t make any quick moves that might startle her or lead her to believe that she’s being stalked.
4. If you are with your male friends and you hear them talking about women in a derogatory way or objectifying women, man up and say something about it. Let them know that this sort of behavior, even if it’s just meant in jest, is not acceptable.
5. Here’s one for the joggers. If you are running and see that you are approaching a female jogger, make some noise. Make heavy footfalls, clear your throat, or give a quick “on your left”. Sometimes, female joggers are wearing headphones, so you can just create lateral distance by moving across the street if possible.
6. There are still plenty of face-covering mandates for preventing the spread of COVID-19. However, you should try to make your face as visible as possible if you encounter a woman who is walking alone. This will help her to feel less threatened and reduce any anxiety about an approaching stranger.
7. Finally, be sensitive to the issue of gender-based violence with women that you know. If someone tells you that they’ve been the victim of domestic violence or a sexual assault, then try to encourage them to report the incident to authorities. Don’t ever blame the victim or make excuses for the aggressor.
Summing it Up
Men need to be a part of the discussion on how to promote a safer world for women. We can actively help women feel less threatened by changing our behavior. It’s not their sole responsibility to avoid perpetrators and no woman is ever asking for it.
In the current global public health crisis, women are at an increased risk of gender-based violence and sexual assault. So, try to put yourself in their shoes and find ways to alleviate their fear. Sometimes, it only takes a gesture or the simple courtesy of crossing to the other side of the road.