“Walk on a well-lit road. Call a friend. Take a cab. Keep your keys between your fingers. Get an Uber. Take the tube.
Women know the endless laughter that accompanies existence; the dull pulse of fear that comes with the basic demands of everyday life. We live in a world where a woman cannot return home without fearing for her life as she makes her way between point A and point B. This has never been truer than it is today, so as the depths of violence and blatant abuse of Wayne Couzens power against Sarah Everard permeate the news cycle, and Sabina Nessa’s alleged murderer sees her first day in court.
Inevitably, the talk around Sarah and Sabina revolved around their decision to walk alone in the dark. Many wondered why they would do something so brazen in an attempt to get to a destination on foot – not to mention that Sabina was only five minutes from her house. “Why didn’t she take the metro?” ” they asked.
I have lived in London for three years. For the first two and a half years of this period, I deftly navigated London’s public transport system, quietly comforted by the density of the population and the perceived safety that accompanies the crowds. I would make sure my valuables were kept close to my body, more scared of pickpocketing than being mugged, never considering this busy network that is swarming so many millions around one of the cities most populated areas in the world could prove to be clearly dangerous.
On June 29, 2021, that bubble burst and my ability to trust the public transport system was quickly taken away.
While in a moderately busy Central Line car, a drunken man got on board and sat across from me. At the next stop, a few people turned up. I blamed myself for feeling worried – I thought to myself, don’t assume he’s going to hurt you just because he’s drunk, maybe he needs to himself. help getting off at the right stop, and the most obvious: this metro is busy. I am safe here. But I wasn’t.
As my end of the car slowly emptied, this man stood up and, looking me straight in the eye, pulled his cock out of his pants. I looked away. My first reaction was to laugh. I met the gaze of the girl in front of me and shared an exasperated gaze. I looked up again to see that he was still watching.
The girl motioned to me from behind her mask: “Are you okay?” I moved to the seat at the end of the block, as far away from him as possible. He turned and started to pee against the wall. Finally, at the next stop, as the girl was getting off, I moved some cars. She made sure I was safe before she left – I will always be grateful to her.
he yelled through the car windows as we left the station. “Take off your fucking mask.” My heart stayed firmly stuck in my throat until it finally came down two stops before me.
I didn’t think it was sexual harassment. It was only on the encouragement of my sister that I reported this incident to the UK Transport Police, who informed me that there was little they could do – although I did provide them with a detailed description , its departure station and precise time stamps.
I started to wonder if I was exaggerating too much; maybe he just needed to pee, maybe I was dramatizing the benign. Then it occurred to me that Wayne Couzens had exposed himself in public shortly before kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard. I wondered if this experience was more sinister than I allowed myself to believe.
Two months later, on September 2, it happened again. I was well settled in my book when I looked up to see that my end of the car had fully cleared, except for one man. My skin was tingling. Subconsciously, I started to scratch the inside of my arms – that soft patch of skin under my elbow. A buzzing sound started in the back of my brain. “Something’s wrong,” he kept saying over and over.
As if at the right moment, the man stood up, leaning against the end of the car, just the glass partition separating me from him; his crotch at my eye level. He moved his hand and started to touch himself, over his pants, staring at me all the time. I turned and looked, staring back at him.
Wanting to realize that yes it was happening again – and no, I’m not going crazy – my brain kicked in and I moved. No one further in the car caught my attention. None of them even seemed to register my distress.
After the first time, I convinced myself that, on average, it was only a matter of time before I felt uncomfortable on the subway. I pushed it to the back of my head. I told the story with a sense of detached disgust. After the second time, I got in a cab from the station and burst into tears as soon as I walked through the door. I felt tarnished. I felt disgusted. Twice in as many months, I thought over and over. “I had to do something to get him.”
The reality is that nothing I did could have encouraged or stopped what happened to me on either of these occasions. It could have been any woman setting where I was. Because the responsibility does not lie with me. He doesn’t lie with Sarah Everard. It does not belong to the 80 women who have been killed by men since his death.
It does not belong to Sabina Nessa. It belongs to men. “Walk on a well-lit road. Call a friend. Take a cab. Keep your keys between your fingers. Get an Uber. Take the subway. Which women to do will never make a difference until men realize the one basic mantra: not.