I was in class once when the teacher posed this question: “When you are at the library studying and then it’s time to finally leave but it’s late at night, what do you do?”
The guys answered, “We get our stuff together and leave.” And then she explained that that’s a very normal male response. However, for a girl to leave the library after a late night of studying, she has to assess the situation, check to see if there’s a group leaving that she can walk out with, get her keys ready, make sure that she’s carrying all her books and supplies without them becoming a hindrance, and perhaps even have her phone in hand to call 911 if she needs to. Maybe she takes out her mace, pepper spray, or rape whistle.
I think about this as I’m out on the road walking for victims and survivors when I see a fellow walker coming toward me. It’s a young guy. He has his earphones in and his music turned up so loud, even I can hear it. He looks comfortable. He’s not looking around keeping an eye on his surroundings. This is because he can. He doesn’t need to be afraid of me sneaking up and hurting him. He doesn’t need to be afraid of me making him feel uncomfortable. He is shirtless and wearing short shorts, and yet he doesn’t have to worry about me cat-calling him.
Men sometimes feel left out by articles about women being sexually assaulted, but I can’t speak as a man. I only speak as a woman. And as a woman, I can tell you that I’ve stopped walking certain routes sometimes because of ongoing construction with groups of men. Or because walking by somebody’s house made me uncomfortable. I can tell you that I’m careful about what I wear when I go out whether it’s winter or summer just to hopefully avoid the extra attention I don’t want. Which seems silly that I even have to. But it is what it is, so I try to stay safe.
How I Try To Stay Safe When I’m Walking
1 – I don’t listen to anything like music or podcasts when I’m walking. I need to hear what’s going on around me. The time a truck rolled up slowly behind me, I wouldn’t have been able to hear it if I had been listening to music.
2 – Pay attention to the road. Walking is an easy way for me to let my ideas flow, to work on my writing, and to plan which projects I might want to try next. Sometimes my my mind wanders through memories or my to-do list. But I always try to stay present too. I know how deeply into my own thoughts I can go, to the exclusion of everything else, so I am mindful to not go too deep.
3 – In this same way, I rarely text or check Facebook while walking. If I text, it’s typically talk-to-text, which usually amounts to the recipient receiving garbled messages. But I don’t want to get so caught up in looking at my screen that I forget the world around me.
4 – I avoid areas that raise my hackles. I believe instinct delivers and we typically ignore it, so I try to listen to my gut. If I walk a road that feels unsafe, I never go there again. And I get away from it as quickly as I can.
5 – I carry my phone in my hand most of the time. This is so that if something does happen, I have a better chance of calling for help.
6 – I also always have my walking app set, just in case authorities would need to figure out where I was last (in the event I was taken from the area). This sounds like paranoia, but I feel better having it set.
7 – I rarely ever go out walking without someone knowing about it. And they know my intended route. In fact, at least 2 people have walked the route with me.
8 – I know some self-defense moves and am not afraid to use them.
Here’s what I know: if something ever happens to me when I’m walking, it is NOT my fault. It’s the fault of the person who has chosen to hurt me. However, I CAN minimize the possibility of becoming a victim by taking as much responsibility for my own safety as I can. More, I apply these same precautions in my everyday life and in business.
Living in this world as a woman comes with complicated fears at times, and there is a delicate balance between necessary safety precautions and paranoia. I choose to sway away from paranoia but to stay in the comfort of caution. I hope you will, too.