The problem with the new rape advice
As we said goodnight there was a brief pause, not completely unfamiliar, but perhaps more obvious that evening in light of the recent news. Neither of us said anything, though I wondered if she was thinking it too.
‘Will she be okay if we go our separate ways tonight? Will I be okay?’
I watched her get into a taxi and settled myself, she was a short ride from home and my car was only a few blocks away.
I scanned the road ahead of me and ticked off the checklist.
Were the streets well lit? Yes.
Were there cars driving around? Yes, frequently.
Were there many people walking around? Enough, yes.
I got my phone out of my handbag and unlocked it, as a security measure of course. I had planned what I would do numerous times before that night - I would press the call button and speak loudly if I couldn’t speak into the phone directly. They would at least hear what was going on and be able to keep me on the line as help was called for.
It was bred into me from a very young age to always be on guard in situations like this. ‘The streets at night are no place for a young woman’, my parents would say. I would make jokes about my mum being a personal taxi service, no matter what time of night.
Now, I get it.
I started my walk down Lygon Street, a mere six days since the same suburb was tainted with the loss of a young woman, innocently walking the roads to get to her destination. A decision I chose to make regardless of the hesitation I felt.
I approached a small group of teenage boys fooling about on skateboards, my step quickened slightly and then slowed again as I passed them, seemingly without them noticing me.
I walked past an older couple who both looked over at me and smiled politely as they carried on their conversation. I felt a little safer.
As I got closer to my car there was a final figure in the distance. He was built a little wider and was coming towards me quickly.
I took one last look behind me to see how far away the older couple was, they were now nowhere to be seen. I checked the roads for cars, it had cleared and was painfully silent. I kept walking and watched the man carefully as he got closer to me.
As we came within metres of each other the man edged slightly onto the grass. His face dipped down, avoiding eye contact, and he took his hands out of his pockets, allowing me to see he wasn’t holding nor hiding anything in his pockets.
I kept my eyes on him and noticed a bright purple hood poking out from the back of his dark jacket. I noticed his big bushy beard and the wrinkles around his eyes. In another setting I wouldn’t hesitate to speak to this man, he could have been my brother or a friend. But as we passed there wasn’t any acknowledgement whatsoever, there was no greeting, no smile, not even a side glance on his part.
A feeling of relief washed over me, then a feeling of gratitude towards him. A few more steps closer to my car and I started feeling sad. Really sad.
I wondered if he’d been reading all the posts on social media and in the news this week. The posts targeting all men relating to rape and violence towards women.
I wondered if he felt guilty about being a man, for having that physical power over me. I wondered if he was thinking about how best to alleviate my fear as we were passing on the quiet street that night.
What he did was kind and thoughtful. And, I made it to my car safely. But as I drove away I couldn’t help think about a reality that unfortunately feels far from our own right now.
A reality where a woman can without question walk home alone at night, regardless of the time, street or suburb.
A reality where two people regardless of sex or physical stature can walk past each other, smile and wish each other a good evening.
A reality where a genuinely nice man doesn’t have to change his behaviour in order to appear less threatening to the woman he is passing.
A reality where this is just not a thing.
To the man I passed in the street, thank you for doing what you did, thank you for making me feel safe and secure as we crossed paths. What I really look forward to though, is that day where I can pass you, we can comfortably look at each other - without question, and continue on our way.
That to me will be a pretty incredible day.