Sarah Everard was a 33-year-old female who disappeared on March 3, 2021 in Clapham, South London. Her remains were found a week after she was missing. She was abducted while walking home alone at night from a friend's house before she was murdered.
Everard's terrible experience reminds me of my own concern towards my safety on the street. I am sure I’m not the only one–nearly every women who has walked alone in the dark must at some point in their life experience this fear.
Everard was abducted and killed in London, the city where I used to live. It was the beginning of 2013 when I was walking home in the dark from Arnos Grove tube station when I suddenly saw a tall hooded figure walking towards me. I thought, "this is it; this is how I die," because it was too late for me to cross the street. If I screamed, no one would hear me, with music blasting from the house on the corner of the street.
As I decided to step aside, hoping he might just walk past me, the figure became clearer. It was my then boyfriend who was on his way to pick me up from the station. When I told him that I thought I was going to die, he laughed, showing zero empathy. Of course, he laughed—there’s no such thing as being afraid of walking alone on the street for him.
Five years later, I got a chance to work in New York, another big city well-known to the world. The breathtaking cityscape and my cultural experiences, however, did not stop me from keeping my head down when I walk alone at night. I had to make sure there were no other shadows but mine on the pavement. That was one way to make sure that no one is following me home. Once, I saw more than four men walking towards me. My instinct told me to ignore the law and jaywalked to cross the street. Thank heavens the street was empty, or I could’ve been run over by cars for jumping so quickly to the road.
Now, back in Jakarta, I no longer walk on the street for long, as I drive. The last time I did so, I was catcalled in front of my own campus in Central Jakarta after dinner with a friend. I then remembered why I loved listening to music every time I had to use public transportation or walk alone. Whoever invented the earphones deserves a statue for easing women around the world of the stress of street harassment.
It is not surprising that Indonesian people are famous for being lazy walkers. Not only that the pavements are inconvenient, but the chance of being harassed for women is also high. No wonder online methods of transportation are very popular among Indonesians, especially for those who live in big cities.
Although I am privileged with a car, it doesn't mean that I feel thoroughly safe. I once had a flat tire on my way to a friend's house. Instead of changing the tire by myself, I preferred to drive slowly into the highway so I could ask the toll road's facility for help. By asking for proper assistance, I could avoid the judgment and male gaze on me if I change the tire by myself outside the toll road.
I also have a habit of keeping a jacket in the car. Besides keeping myself warm, the jacket is very useful to cover myself in case of a car's technical emergency. Because sometimes the tight t-shirt or shorts that I wear cannot stop men leering at me at gas station or on the side of road.
Putting my car key between my fingers as a weapon can also make me feel safer if I have to walk in a dark parking lot. And every time I get in the car, I lock it right away even before I turn the machine on. This is on top of making sure that I park my car somewhere bright and familiar. These habits can save me from a criminal entering my car before it’s locked and threatens the victim from inside the vehicle.
Whether it is walking, driving, or riding in a big or small city, we are all Sarah Everard. As long as we are seen as other than human, we will never feel safe, we will never stop walking accompanied by a friend, we will never stop holding keys between our fingers, and we will always look back to check no one's following us.
Also, knowing that a police officer is charged for the murder of Everard, it is unlikely for us to easily trust the police. And ironically, many women who were showing their respect to Everard in Clapham were unnecessarily manhandled by the police on Saturday, 13th of March 2021. In Indonesia, law enforcers still have the tendency to blame victims in cases of sexual violence. This makes it more difficult for us women to find help.
Endless education is one answer to this issue, especially men. Everyone needs to know that women are never safe on the street if we are still seen as objects instead of human beings. Men have to realize that we need them as allies. Men’s support can help amplify the issue—then maybe those in power are willing to hear them and provide better facilities to make the street safer for women. Facilities such as more street lights and a 24-hour hotline could be provided to support the idea to protect women.
While waiting for the utopian concept of women-friendly streets to come true, let's not stop in fighting for our rights as citizens of the world. Marching, educating, supporting, writing, posting, and talking about women's safety on the street are only some of many things that we can do. By keeping on going, we can make the street safe and stop another victim like Sarah Everard from happening again.