Stop telling us to be scared. The streets were already ‘our streets’ and they have been getting safer for years. The only thing that has been on the increase is fear, and this is being used to divide and control us.

As a woman, if I die a violent death it will almost definitely be at the hands of someone I know. The most dangerous place for a woman to be is actually at home with a violent partner or when trying to get away from that partner – if you are one of those people who finds yourself saying “I don’t get it, why doesn’t she just leave him?” then take a look at the scarily high incidences of murders of women who are trying to flee a violent relationship before you judge too harshly. Funnily enough with this government’s obsession with everything looking neat and wholesome over things being actually safe, they have continued to offer tax breaks and perks to married couples, blithely ignoring the dangers of being legally and financially tied to a person who may well turn into a violent and controlling force in your life.

Despite its incredible rarity, stranger danger has been a convenient way to make women afraid of the streets, making parents afraid of letting the kids out to play, and justifying ever increasing surveillance and policing. It’s such a politically convenient tool that the Tories just couldn’t resist getting it back out of the box to address the issue of violence against women. It’s an old trick, we’ve all seen it before. Stoking up fear and paranoia about the other (in this case the loner, creep, dangerous man hanging out on every street corner waiting to grab any women foolish enough to believe that she could walk the streets of her own city with no escort), then reassure a frightened and divided population that you will protect them, then use this as an excuse to hugely increase police powers and state control while conveniently also being free to attack those who don’t fit in (be it migrants, vagrants, travellers, ravers or the homeless).

Also, the vision of the woman walking through the streets ‘all alone’ who is then attacked by the villain of the story offers such an easy narrative. She is innocent – the right sort of woman. She is probably on her way home from reading stories to some orphans or doing the shopping for an elderly neighbour. Ideally she’d be a young nun. She clearly needs protecting. This avoids the messy, human, flawed nature of almost every actual situation that people have to live in.

Do you know which women do experience the most violence and murder from strangers? Sex workers.

If the caricature villain I described above actually wanted to abduct and torture and murder a woman, he wouldn’t have to lurk in a dark alley waiting for the domestic saint to walk past. He could pick up a sex worker, safe in the knowledge that the state and the press doesn’t care what happens to her because she is the wrong sort of woman. There are many routes into sex work but the story can often start with women running away from an abusive situation (looking for more safety in the streets than in the house), then being picked up by a man who feeds them drugs to make them feel better, takes full control of their lives in the name of protection before renting them out by the hour to anyone who has the cash. Through the very violence and exploitation perpetrated on them, these women somehow become unworthy of protection or support by the wider society.

Just like when a woman is killed at home by her violent husband, the murder of a sex worker by her pimp or by a client will seldom hit the headlines. These are just the humdrum everyday violent deaths experienced by women who are somehow morally compromised (either by entering a romantic relationship with a controlling abuser or by finding herself being sold by the hour) so no-one is really bothered. If we are serious about addressing violence towards women, here’s my suggestions:

  1. Hugely increase the provision of women’s refuges so that women trying to escape their abuser don’t end up in the hands of another goddamn predator.
  2. Stop treating sex workers as ‘damaged goods’ and start treating them like the exploited victims of abuse that they often are – maybe even decriminalise or legalise sex work so that women who want to make some extra money from their bodies can do it safely by opening a legitimate business and enjoy the full protection of the law.
  3. Stop promoting marriage as the ideal state and make divorce easier. Why are people in loving long term relationships denied the rights that their married friends enjoy? Why is it so much harder to rent a house as a group of friends than it is for a married couple? What the fuck is the point of the married couples allowance?

Finally, just to reiterate – don’t believe the hype! Our streets are not dangerous. We are not going to be attacked by strangers in the street. Our government is dangerous. It is divisive and fear mongering and obsessed with control and conformity. They will keep pushing to increase surveillance and increase police powers. They will keep stoking fear and paranoia to keep us divided, isolated and compliant. Be afraid of the government, and the police with their shiny new powers. We are more likely to end up experiencing police brutality from a force that has been told that toppling a statue is as bad as rape, or that ‘making too much noise’ is unacceptable in a protest, than we are to be abducted by strangers.

Fuck them all.
Fight the power.

PS. We make the streets safer when we all use them. The people who are most likely to be violently attacked on the streets are young men (generally attacked by other young men). I have spent a lifetime avoiding generous offers to ‘walk me home’ and I will always defend my right to walk my city without fear and without a bloody chaperone. However if a young man is about to walk home alone, really I should be offering to walk him. He is more vulnerable than me and my presence would actually make him safer. Outside of the two spheres of domestic violence and sex work he is much more likely to die a violent death or experience a violent assault than me. So women, get out into the streets, don’t be afraid, there are young men out there that need someone to walk them home.

PPS. Other women ranting here:
Kerry McCarthy – Government are ‘fanning the flames’ of division by protecting statues not women says Bristol MP
Reclaim These Streets’ girl boss feminism will never set us free

PPPS. Check out the work of One25 in supporting marginalised women in Bristol.

PPPPS. PRSC is a drop-off point for The Dialtone Project, who give old phones you don’t need to the sex workers who do.