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Comment: I’m a walking target for men on our city's streets

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 16/04/2018 Alice Rummery
Alice Rummery has adopted a number of strategies to try to prevent any harassment. © Supplied Alice Rummery has adopted a number of strategies to try to prevent any harassment.

Sydney is my home and a city that I love. Despite everything that is beautiful about it, there is a frightening aspect of living here: street harassment.

In only the last two weeks, I have been harassed no fewer than six times: from a man cat-calling out of a car, to the chilling experience of a group of older men yelling profanities about my appearance in an attempt to, at the very best, get my attention and at the very worst, to frighten me. Every time, this behaviour comes from men seeking to objectify or intimidate.

These experiences are common. The barrage of street harassment I experience simply getting from one place to another leaves me feeling defiled, powerless and numb. I’ve become desensitised to it. But this isn’t right.

It should not be normal. It doesn’t make any sense that I can be harassed by a complete stranger, sometimes to the extent that I fear for my safety, and then go about my day as if nothing has happened. But so many other women do.

A survey by Plan International Australia of around 450 women living in Sydney my age, between 18 and 25, found 90 per cent of us don’t feel the city is safe after dark and 92 per cent don’t feel comfortable on public transport at night. Even during the day, it can be sketchy. Almost half the women surveyed (44 per cent) said they didn’t feel comfortable using public transport during the day.

I shouldn’t have to think twice about what I wear when I go out, fearing that if I choose something too “provocative”, that I will be inviting harassment, and that will be “my fault”.

Every time I walk home, I can only cross my fingers and hope that something doesn’t happen to me. Here are some of the things I do to feel safe while I’m out in public.

Is walking Sydney's streets safe? © Greg Newington Is walking Sydney's streets safe?

Every time I get onto a crowded train I stand with my back to the wall because this is the best way that I have found to ward off men who grope.

Every time I think about which train stop to get off at, I consider which station is darker, which one has a safer walk home and where there will be more people.

Every time I see a man walking towards me at night, I think about what I have in my bag. Can I speed dial 000 if I need to? Is there something I can use to protect myself?

It is important to remember that these behaviours aren’t born from nothing, they are learnt from the persistent harassment that I experience on Sydney’s streets.

I’m just one woman navigating the big city. But when these stories are told together, and when more and more people share them, they have significant power. Plan International Australia understands this and has developed an online mapping tool called Free to Be, which is launching tomorrow, where women can log their positive and negative experiences while out and about in Sydney.

I was proud to be part of developing Free to Be because it’s designed by young women like me, for young women, to help make our streets safer.

I don’t want to have to change my behaviour so that I’m not harassed. I want decision makers, authorities and men to act. Sydney should be a place where all women feel safe, empowered and where our experiences are understood. The more we speak out, the more effectively we can make a change.


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