It's Autumn And Women Don't Feel Safe Being Outside Anymore

As the seasons change, so does the behaviour of women protecting themselves after dark.
alvarez via Getty Images

Women know all too well the adjustments they have to make daily to stay alive.

Be it walking with their keys between their knuckles, quickening their pace as they feel someone creeping up behind them, ordering a taxi for short distances, or taking busy, well-lit roads even though the walk through the park is quicker.

And we make these adjustments even more at night time. Women don’t feel safe at night. When autumn arrives, and the longer, lighter evenings of summer subside, women are all too often left with a panicking feeling about their safety.

The news of 28-year-old Sabina Nessa, who was attacked and killed while walking through a park in South-East London to meet her friend in the pub, just five minutes from home, has crushed and angered many of us.

After the high-profile disappearance and murder of Sarah Everard in March, it’s left many of us questioning whether things will ever change when it comes to violence against women and girls.

Now, as autumn emerges, followed by winter, many women are reluctant to walk around in the evening, even near their homes. It means no more listening to music at night, or jogging after work. It means planning our social life and adjusting our behaviour, based on a threat that may or may never happen.

Sabina's case sparked new concerns for the safety of women walking the capital’s streets (Metropolitan Police via AP)
via Associated Press
Sabina's case sparked new concerns for the safety of women walking the capital’s streets (Metropolitan Police via AP)

For 25-year-old Sarah Wilson, a journalist from Leeds, who loves running as it’s cathartic for her mental health, autumn means an end to her evening runs and also re-arranging plans to make sure she’s not out at night as much.

“In summer I often jog after work to stay fit and also look after my mental wellbeing (I find it really calming),” she explains.

“However, once it gets dark after finishing work, I just don’t feel safe running alone in the dark especially as a lot of the routes I go on lead through woods and quieter areas. It being darker earlier also means I’ll take taxis rather than walk places alone in the dark. Although a taxi isn’t 100% safe, it feels safer than walking alone.”

Sarah has to stop jogging during autumn and winter nights
(Picture: Sarah Wilson)
Sarah has to stop jogging during autumn and winter nights

“Incidents like what happened to Sabina heighten this fear so much and it’s hearing about women like her that makes me so angry and upset that I can’t do something as simple as walk through a park by myself without being worried I’ll be murdered or assaulted by some random guy just for existing,” she adds

“Having lived with two male housemates for the past couple of years (who are great), their ability to just do whatever they like at night (including jogging) underlines how unfair it is that I and other women just don’t get the same freedom to exist in public space at night.”

While women can anecdotally attest to the anxieties around the perceived dangers of autumn and winter, some research actually points to higher levels of crime committed during summer months.

A 2014 study by the US Department of Justice found that rape and sexual assault rates tended to rise during the summer. Rates of intimate partner violence were also higher during summer than winter, spring, and autumn. The numbers may differ in the UK, but women’s fears stay unchanged every year.

For author Dorothy Koomsmon from Brighton, working permanently from home has eradicated the unsettling anxieties of the days getting shorter.

She tells Huffpost UK: “I remember that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach when I looked out the window at 4.30pm and it was dark, knowing I had to get the train then a bus home.”

“I’ve worked from home for nearly 15 years so it doesn’t apply any more. But I remember the feeling so well when I worked in central London. I remember wishing almost every day I could afford to get taxis everywhere so I felt safer.

“When I used to go for a drink after work I had to either leave really early or stay at a friend’s house so I wasn’t going home alone. I could never relax until I got home. The clocks changing always meant more stress and anxiety about leaving work at 6pm.”

The emerging details of Sabina Nessa’s death – a man has now been arrested on suspicion of her murder – have understandably shaken women further.

A vigil is being held for Sabina Nessa on Friday night at 7pm in Kidbrooke Village, southeast London, close to where her body was found, organised by the Reclaim These Streets collective, who campaign for safer streets for women “regardless of what we wear, where we walk or what time of day or night it is”.

The group write on their website: “We began as a group of women organising a vigil for Sarah Everard, and for all women who feel unsafe, who go missing from our streets and who face violence every day. In August we also held a vigil for Bibaa [Henry] and Nicole [Smallman] in Fryent Park. Sadly, the problem of violence against women has not gone away, and women and girls still go missing or are murdered.”

Violence against women and girls is a “shadow pandemic”, sexual harassment lawyer Deeba Syed tells HuffPost UK. “There’s not enough understanding of the ways that this impacts women. It impacts on all women, but particularly women of colour who are at a higher risk of violence,” she says. “How many more women have to die before it’s seen as the urgent matter that it is?”

Sadly, Sabina Nessa’s case is not unique, nor will it be, until we bring about lasting change. As the days get shorter, our anxieties loom larger, and in spring and summer, too, women are never without fear for their lives.

Surely the solution to women’s safety is not simply staying in at night.

The police are appealing for anyone with information about Sabina Nessa’s attack to come forward by calling 101 with the reference 5747/18 or contacting Crimestoppers.

Help and support:

If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for the police. If you are not in immediate danger, you can contact:

  • The Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge: 0808 2000 247
  • In Scotland, contact Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
  • In Northern Ireland, contact the 24 hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline: 0808 802 1414
  • In Wales, contact the 24 hour Life Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800.
  • National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0800 999 5428
  • Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
  • Respect helpline (for anyone worried about their own behaviour): 0808 802 0321