Her Story: Walking Home Through the Meadows

 

Have you ever gone to a self-defence class? Have you ever even considered what you would do in the event of being followed? It is a sad truth that the harassment of women is an aspect of city life, expected and not entirely shocking. A recent study revealed that 80% of 12 to 25 year olds in Edinburgh have had personal experience of some form of sexual harassment in public. Approximately 90% of those identified themselves as women. So, it isn’t unreasonable for us to learn how to defend ourselves if we’re attacked. ‘Equality of the sexes’ aside, it is naive to be blind to the fact that we cannot outrun men, and we cannot overpower them.

Previous to Edinburgh, I went to an all-girls boarding school. (Groan all you like, it’s true.) This, combined with only having one sister, meant that my perception of men had largely been fed through several filters, such as school and Hollywood, rather than first-hand experience.  I remember my school organizing a ‘SELF-DEFENCE CLASS FOR WOMEN’. It was compulsory and we reluctantly shuffled into the grimy, run-down school ‘gym’ for a ‘lesson in aggression’.

We learnt that the weakest point of men is their crotch (hopefully not news to most) and knees. We were taught the ‘kick up’ technique. Needless to say, as protected as we were in that bubble, that sort of danger felt very far away and most of the lesson was spent in fits of giggles. However, moving to the city has brought the necessity of this protection out of my periphery and I recently had an experience that not only exposed my naivety but also the overwhelming gaps in my understanding. My concern now is that my experience can fill in these gaps not just for me but for others, maybe even you.

Let me set the scene. I’ve been living in Edinburgh for about a year and a half. As cities go, this is not the most dangerous for a single girl. Although vague stories about girls getting into trouble induce enough awareness about not spending time walking around by myself at night, my sense of security increased as I began to get to know the city better.  Before long, I felt comfortable making a twenty-minute journey home in the evening, despite it going through the dimly lit ‘Meadows’, which don’t have the purest reputation at night. Then, one night, I became part of a statistic. I was walking back through Edinburgh at around 9 o’clock. I remember suddenly looking down at the road and seeing a shadow behind me. Instinctively I thought, "That's a little close." I then turned sharply round the road to see if the shadow would follow. It did. I kept my eyes to the ground hoping that the person would walk past me.

‘Hello,’ I heard. I turned my head to see a very tall man walking next to me and looking at me with a smile. Internally, I immediately panicked. ‘Why is this man talking to me and how can I get him to stop?’ Externally, I tried to appear un-flustered. It’s strange, as much as I go through the events in my head, I still don’t know how he got me talking. But, soon I found myself in a conversation. He walked next to me for about 15 minutes and pretty quickly it became apparent that this was not just someone being friendly.

He began to close the gap between us and when we’d stop at traffic lights, his leg was resting against the back of mine. Also, he started to talk about me sexually. We were soon approaching the Meadows and I knew that I had to get rid of him before then. Eventually I summed up the courage to challenge him. ‘Why are you walking with me?’ He pretended not to understand me. I asked him again. He ignored it again. I then said ‘Can you go please’. He again pretended not to understand me.

Eventually he said, ‘Sorry do you want me to go?’ ‘Yes.’ Then, there was the moment which I knew would determine the events of the night. He took a step towards me and tried to put his hand on my shoulder, an attempt to manipulate. I shot backwards and said ‘No. Go’. I looked at him dead in the eye and said it with as much authority as I could muster, trying to conceal the panic rising. As soon as I said this, he was gone. He shot down the road we’d just walked. I waited to make sure he kept on walking and then ran as fast as I could home. Thankfully, what I have just described was not life changing. What I’ve just described, is no big deal. But, where did my self defense training come in? No, I was not being attacked... yet. 

 

Reflecting on this, I can totally understand how and why so many women find themselves in threatening situations. What I experienced was manipulation through intimidation. I was totally petrified and as a result I was willing to let this man walk next to me as long as he did rather than challenging immediately what he was doing. The ‘what is consent’ debate is difficult to resolve. When we’re in that situation we are afraid that speaking against the person will lead to punishment in some way. That is the difficulty about something like this: people are unpredictable. What I do know now is that if that happens to me again, I’m going to challenge it straight away. As time went on, there was more that he thought he could get away with because I did not tell him not to.

Don’t misunderstand me here, I am not saying that if you don’t say ‘no’, that means ‘yes’. Of course not. But I think self-defense is not just about physically escaping situations like that. We need to be bold with speaking out. As soon as I challenged him, I felt the balance of the conversation shift. I became unpredictable. I became defiant. That is not as easy to manipulate.

Later that night I wondered why I hadn’t spoken sooner. I wondered why I didn’t go into one of the shops on the road that were still open. I wondered why I didn’t call a friend. I had been totally paralyzed by fear. Fear of what? So, if there is one thing I can offer those who haven’t had this experience, go and have all the self-defense classes you want, they may be useful. But, please, do not underestimate the power of your voice. Stand up for yourself. Prevent the disaster.

 

[Note from the Editor: Please see the following resources for more information about staying safe in Edinburgh!]

-Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Center (http://www.ewrasac.org.uk/Contact-us/)

-Edinburgh University Advice Place (http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/advice/)

-Sexual Harassment (http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/advice/harrassment-and-complaints/sexual/)

-Safety Advice (http://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/advice/safety-advice/)

 

Bibliography: http://edinburgh.ihollaback.org/files/2013/03/hollaback-report-2013.pdf/