A woman has been raped and murdered. By a stranger on a street at night.
It’s a terrible thing, and a terrible fear.
And we’re reacting in a natural and perfectly acceptable way – grief, shock, trying to understand. Trying to find a way to protect ourselves from it, both individually and collectively.
But it’s a lot like shark attacks. They stick in the mind. There’s a cinematic quality to them, a terror that has nothing to do with logic and everything to do with storytelling. So we freak out when we hear the words. We even consider culls. When in fact, shark attacks are so unlikely to kill you you might as well be wearing hats to protect you from meteors.
The facts are these:
Most women are attacked by people they know. Most women are killed in their homes. The rates of these things are staggeringly, unacceptably high.
The people who are likely to be attacked on the street are men. Their safety rates are appallingly low.
Women are more likely to be attacked the more clothes they wear. The closer they are to home. Men walking them home puts them at greater risk, not less, because it puts them next to a man.
These are all facts.
The story is that the girl was unaccompanied, alone, in the dark. Made vulnerable by stupid choices. If she had been more sensible, it could have been avoided. False.
It’s like saying “oh, he was in a car crash, he should never have gone on the road.” Yes, street abductions happen on the street. That IS true. If she had never, ever gone on the street, her chances would have gone from infinitesimally small to zero. In much the same way that you can’t get bitten by a shark if you’re 100 miles inland. But your chances are not significantly altered by getting in the water.
I work in health care. I know about significant behaviour modifications.
More importantly, if you are 100km inland on a firing range, you should get in the water. Statistically speaking, it is safer. Likewise, a woman is at much greater risk, overall, at home with her husband than alone on the streets.
Now, if it was just false, if it was just false, that’d be one thing.
But it’s not just false. It’s harmful. It buys into the basic prejudice that women are zebras and men are lions. Wander from the herd and you put yourself at risk because women are prey and men are predators. That isn’t true. And the myth is harmful. It hurts men. It hurts women. It puts women more at risk, because it gives them a false sense of security when they need to be wary, and makes them wary when they are relatively safe. And it tells men that predation is part of a natural cycle. That women are prey.
And it tells women they are weak.
The first time I learned this was when a female flatmate offered to come and pick me up from work at night, because she didn’t want me walking home alone. She was right, the stats made it dangerous. I resisted instinctively. I felt babied and coddled. I felt like I was thought to be weak. I felt insulted. I felt my manhood was questioned. And I said no.
And noone has ever questioned me on it. NOT ONCE. No one has ever called me foolish. No one has ever said I put my principles above my safety. Never. Ever ever ever.
When men are punched on the street, I don’t get emails telling me to stay safe. When there’s violence in the Valley nobody reminds me to get a chaperon to walk me to the station. Nobody ever does this.
Because nobody believes in statistics, and everybody believes in stories.
And the story says “Woman, you are weak. You are a baby. You are dependent. You are to be coddled and protected. By virtue of having a vagina, you are a walking crime waiting to happen. You are ALWAYS AT RISK.”
And worse, you are far more at risk the moment you went outside, had a drink, wore an outfit not deemed 100% appropriate. The more you expressed yourself, the more you became a victim.
That’s a terrible message to tell anyone – even if it were true. But it’s not.
It is a lie.
Ladies, I need someone to walk me to my car. Because I’ve read the statistics, and I don’t feel safe any more. And always offer to walk your male friends home. They will appreciate it. How could they not?