In March 2021, a woman named Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered in South London as she was walking home.
Simply walking home alone at night proved to be life-threatening. But this aspect of the story is no new news. Women have long shared their fears on the subject.
Constant glances over the shoulder and walking with keys between the fingers have become well-known protection rituals against potential violence. And these efforts, though necessary measures of self defense, can at times feel like small band-aids over a larger wound.
As Alice Jackson and Rachel Chung, two students in Edinburgh, attended one of Everard’s vigils, an idea struck them. And it’s helping women in the U.K. gain not only a sense of safety, but something else too. Something of equal immense value.
Jackson and Chung together created Strut Safe, a volunteer organization where women can request a pair of volunteers to escort them home, or stay on the phone with them while they are in transit.According to Strut Safe’s website, all volunteers are vetted and subject to a strict code of conduct. And as of now, they have more than 50 volunteers across the U.K.
In an interview with indy100, Chung shared how Everard’s death inspired a call to create change.
“The idea of ‘she was just walking home’ was, I think, a very prominent idea. So many of us don’t always feel safe when walking home so we basically decided that we wanted to put something structurally and tangible in place that anybody could call…We wanted to be the universal number for people to get in touch with if they feel unsafe walking home,” she explained.
“The view we take is if we’re there on the phone with you, we’re there with you in live time so if something did happen we are going to be able to alert the authorities,” she added, likening it to “being a professional friend.”
So just what is a phone call like? Well, that depends.Sometimes, it’s merely gossip. Other times, “you come off a 20-minute call that's been really emotionally intense, really serious,” Chung tells BBC News. “The caller might have been running at the end, crying. And then you'll hang up, and you're sitting on your sofa, the telly paused, and there'll be silence.”
Though the goal is to be available every night, Strut Safe currently runs its services Friday and Saturday nights between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., and Sunday night from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.That goal might not be too far off, as social media has added exponential visibility to the service. Currently Strut Safe has more than 70,000 followers on Instagram.
Writing this, I can’t help but be reminded of a Twitter thread, created by activist Danielle Muscato, which went viral back in 2018.
Muscato asked women what they would do if men had a 9 p.m. curfew. The answers were both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Running with both earbuds in, enjoying quiet nighttime strolls, looking up at the stars are some examples.
The answers, though varied, all have a similar theme: freedom.
Muscato's thread offered some long-overlooked insight as to just how un-free many women felt over something easily taken for granted.
Luckily, the volunteers at Strut Safe are helping to change this narrative and helping women reclaim empowerment through their services.
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