• Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

A Conversation with Strut Safe: ‘Policing Should Not Exist As It Currently Does’

ByOrla MacMahon

Nov 7, 2021
A woman walking alone at night.A woman walking alone at night.

CW: Sexual Assault

Alice is a University of Edinburgh History graduate with candy-coloured acrylic nails and a system to reform. She co-founded the women’s safety organisation, Strut Safe, with her friend, Rachel, earlier this year: “It swallows my life, but I love it, so it doesn’t matter.”

Strut Safe is a grassroots, intersectional approach to women’s safety. It has over 57,000 followers on Instagram with growing media attention. With operating nights from Friday to Sunday, a dispatcher either stays on the line whilst a caller walks home or sends a pair of volunteers to accompany them. Volunteers are Edinburgh-based but the line is open nationally. On a regular night, Strut Safe will receive around thirty to forty calls; after the murder of Sabina Nessa in September they were receiving a call a minute. Yet, for Alice, the popularity of the line is irrelevant to its success: “If we operated for twenty years and we only got one person home, it would be worth it.”

Strut Safe has around one hundred diverse volunteers who undergo comprehensive background checks, operate in pairs and are in constant contact with a dispatcher. “We get women, men, non-binary people, married couples, old people, young people. A lot of guys get in touch, which is really good.” Alice is often asked what men can do to support women’s safety. “I said to a lot of my male friends when we started: if you are feeling alienated by this conversation, if you’re feeling helpless or blamed, this is something you can do in your community to help the women you know.” So, next time you hear the infamous ‘not all men’ complaint, send them Strut Safe’s way. 

Alice and Rachel founded Strut Safe in the aftermath of the murder of Sarah Everard last March. Discussing the public grief provoked by Sarah’s death, Alice suggests, “I think it rang so true because she was walking a very short walk, through an area she lived in. It’s something all women, and all marginalised people do, every day, every night.” Alice acknowledges the issue of “missing white woman syndrome”, the disproportionate outcry by the public and media when a white woman is a victim, whilst being careful not to detract from the tragedy.

With stories emerging about the culture of toxic masculinity in policing, Strut Safe feels like the feminist reinvention of public safety. It is deeply situated in the community and run by the people who need it; “I genuinely think that people enjoy feeling like the community is there for them. People feel like perhaps that sense of community has been lost.” Alice explains how intersectionality is central to Strut Safe’s work: “Marginalised groups – women of colour, trans women – they’re the women who worry so much if something happened to them about getting help and getting justice.” It is not insignificant that it was founded by two friends; there is a clear sense of sisterhood throughout Strut Safe’s operation.

“Sometimes we get girls [phoning] who are really young. We get girls who are walking home from school, or back from a friends’ house, girls who are fourteen or fifteen.” Alice recalls running through dangerous parts of the city on her way to school and she is relieved that girls now have Strut Safe. However, Strut Safe is also a victim of hoax calls, which can have a deep impact on the volunteers who deal with them. Dealing with vulnerable and distressed people can be emotionally draining and Strut Safe prioritises the welfare of its volunteers, although Alice admits she can find it difficult to extend this same care to herself. The work is challenging but equally empowering.

We know now that Sarah Everard’s murder involved shocking abuse of police power. “Faith in the police is really low at the moment and I can understand why. I was reading about how 52% of [Metropolitan] police officers who were found guilty of sexual misconduct kept their jobs. As an organisation, we heavily, heavily support the defunding and reforming of the police. Policing should not exist as it currently does.” With Strut Safe volunteers having been told to avoid certain locations due to attack and assault, Alice does not think the police in Edinburgh have succeeded, or tried at all, to win back women’s trust.

Organising a community approach to an issue as systemic as male violence must often feel overwhelming, perhaps like an unfair burden. Strut Safe operates without a budget and Alice is clear about its limitations: “This is not a solution. It’s a preventative measure for now. What we need is fundamental societal change, legislative change.” In the future, Alice hopes Strut Safe can become a lobbying force for the change she seeks. “I would like to reform our education systems, to try and break down and obliterate the society of rape culture that we live in. We can’t solve everything, but something exists now that didn’t exist before.”

Alice is optimistic about the ability of collective action to create change. “Every time a journalist reaches out and spreads the word, every time someone volunteers, it’s like, okay, we have another, we’re one step closer.” After our interview, she is delivering a talk on rape culture and consent to a room of men. She is full of gratitude, rightfully proud of her work and proud too of her younger self, who she says spoke out against misogyny and homophobia in far less sympathetic spaces. “Sometimes I think she fought the tide more than I do now. I have so much love for that little girl.” And now, that girl is changing the world? Alice laughs wearily. “Now she’s trying.”