CW: sexual assault
At first, it’s a glance – then it’s a stare. That’s when you try to shake off that first unsettling feeling of threat, telling yourself it’s nothing... But while you’re thinking that, your feet have already picked up the pace. Next, they’re following you at a distance for some time but then you notice they’re approaching close behind you faster by the minute. But once again you hear that inner voice saying, it’s fine they’re just going for a walk just like me… For a second time however, your body disagrees with you, as your hand has already been fumbling through your pocket (discretely) gripping your keys between your knuckles.
The scene I’ve just described is obviously not the only setting in which women might find themselves in danger of sexual harassment or assault. However, during these times of lockdown, walking outside is the most likely place to find ourselves in this type of danger. And it has happened. A shocking number of women have experienced sexual harassment in the Meadows this past year. And these are only the ones that we know of… So here are some other measures you can use to protect yourself.
Create an emergency call shortcut on your phone – if your phone doesn’t have one embedded there are plenty of apps that can do it for you. Also, look up what is called a ‘loud personal alarm’ that you can add on your keychain. Also, if you start feeling scared, call someone and let them know where you are and what’s happening. They might be able to meet you somewhere or to give you some advice if you’re getting anxious or scared and don’t know how to react. In general, try to keep out of dark places and close to where there are other people walking around. You can even go up to someone and ask them, “Could I please walk with you for a few minutes? I think I’m being followed.” This can often stop the person from approaching you. I’ve done this once before and it worked immediately. People are always much more willing to help than you might think.
A great thing about our university is that its security team for crime prevention really acts fast, so look them up: ed.ac.uk/estates/what-we-do/security. But also, never hesitate to contact the police. A lot of us do. We either convince ourselves that it was nothing too serious, especially in cases of harassment rather than assault, or we are too embarrassed to talk about it and don’t feel like making it a big deal.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s extremely understandable. In that instant all you want to do is to make yourself forget about it, to stop feeling that fear and disgust – maybe just sleep it off. But think: if you don’t reach out to inform someone that can actually stop this, you might be putting someone else in equal or even more danger than what you experienced. Additionally, if you feel more comfortable reaching out to the university’s Students’ Association, either to report the incident or to seek for mental health services, check out the Advice Place: eusa.ed.ac.uk/support_and_advice/the_advice_place.
If you have learnt nothing new from this article that’s great! It means you already have the basics down. Unfortunately, I only found out about most of this information after a couple of my own and my friends’ experiences of harassment, some of which happened even before university. I do not understand yet how in all the years of our (or at least my) high school education, we all learnt how to recognise harassment, yet no one included any advice on how to protect ourselves in these situations. Some might believe that it’s our parents’ responsibility to educate us about these situations, but what if they don’t?
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is – and I’m speaking to everyone here (not just women) – please inform yourselves, as well as encourage others to do so, both on how to prevent and report such issues because if it isn’t for yourself, you might be able to take action for someone else that might need your help. And just a small reminder: this can happen to anyone, at any moment and it is never the victim’s fault. That is why it is extremely important that we talk about our experiences because in doing so, the first thing we always find out is that we’re not alone, and sometimes that’s all we need to move forward.
University of Edinburgh Security: ed.ac.uk/estates/what-we-do/security.
University of Edinburgh Advice Place: eusa.ed.ac.uk/support_and_advice/the_advice_place.
Image: Sincerely Media via Unsplash