CW: Sexual Assault
“Don’t walk in the Meadows at night,” everyone told me. I ignored them.
Sarah Everard’s death has ricocheted around the world. From Kent, the news of her murder has spread from city to city, even country to country. I see the effects of her death everywhere. When I cross through the Meadows, I pass by her tree adorned with ribbons and covered in flowers. While out running, I passed a gathering of fifty people protesting with signs bearing her name. My mom, all the way from the United States, even called me to discuss the tragedy.
Despite the swirl of activity around me, I’ve said nothing, done nothing. I feel that I’ve been a failure to women. I didn’t protest, didn’t add to her tree, didn’t speak out. Because, the truth is, I didn’t want to think about Sarah Everard.
I love walking in the dark, clearing my head after a long day. With just me, my thoughts, and my earphones blaring music, I am free. I adore the lights of cars rolling down quiet roads, the deserted cobblestone streets of Old Town, and the feeling of cold, fresh air on my cheeks.
But, when the sun sets and darkness settles over Edinburgh, I am never more aware that I am a girl. I’m not scared, but I feel like I should be. I can hear my parents telling me to stay on well-lit streets. My flatmates’ worries echo in my head. I am haunted by my friend’s earnest eyes when he told me to be more careful, to distrust people more, and to carry pepper spray. And, irrationally, I get angry. I get angry at the people who love me and want to protect me.
However, deaths such as Sarah Everard’s make me realise I shouldn’t get mad. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been so despondent the past week. No matter how much I want to cover my ears and stubbornly sing loudly like a toddler, I can’t ignore everyone’s worries when I go walking at night. But I’m just so tired of being warned over and over again, of being told to be scared.
Because the world shouldn’t be like this. This isn’t fair.
If a guy goes for a walk alone in the dark, no one stops him. No one tells him to be safe. When my friend lost his cool and stormed off into the night, no one blinked an eye. If I had pulled such a stunt, I wouldn’t have made it five steps out the door. My friends and family would have dragged me back inside.
I want to ask “why would you stop me but not him?”
But I’m not stupid, I know why. I’ve been catcalled in the dark, had my butt touched on a public bus, and been stopped on the street. I held my friend as she cried because guys harassed her, followed her on her run, and made her scared to come home. I am intimately acquainted with the “why.” We are girls, and the world is different for us.
“Emily, why did you walk back from the cinema alone at midnight?”
“Emily, you shouldn’t have walked back from that late night ballet class.”
“Emily, where have you been? It’s dark.”
“Run, Emily, run faster. We need to get out of here now.”
These worried conversations may seem silly. Afterall, I’m still alive. Most of the time, yes, everything is alright. Most people are good people (or at least not murderers). But, Sarah Everard did everything right — she called her partner, let people know her location, wore trainers, took the safest route — and still ended up dead. We need to stop putting blame on women for walking alone at night, and start putting blame on murderers for murdering.
Is it too much to ask to be able to run in the Meadows after sunset? To enjoy the city lights sparkling in the dark? To carefreely walk home after a trip to the cinema?
Why do I need to pay for an uber home, but he doesn’t? Why do I have to check the time the sun sets on my weather app? Why do friends wait for my “I’m home” text before going to sleep?
I am tired of being chastised, yelled at, and worried over. I am tired of being a girl.