Content Warning: Brief mention of sexual assault.
On Friday a woman in my city organized a hike on a nearby trail as a type of protest. The week before another woman had been hiking the trail when she heard a man call to her. The woman was then struck by the man and sexually assaulted on the trail. So far the man has not been caught.
Because of this, and because of the sexual assault and fear of being assaulted that so many women experience, runner Amanda Pocha decided to organize the hike/run called “Take Back The Trails” to let the victim and other women know that they are not alone, that they have support, and that there are people who want to make the world safer for women.
I went on Friday with a couple of friends and was amazed by the turnout of people. I’ve never attended Take Back The Night or any feminist walks like that before but I’m so happy I did and I’m so happy I was able to see how many people want change, and how many women want to feel safe. My friends and I walked for a bit down one trail before turning back and while the two of them left for home I decided to stay. The trails were emptier now, the groups of people farther down both trails than I was, and I decided to take a walk through the woods.
I love walking, was raised on walking when I was very small with walks through the neighbourhoods and relying on walking to destinations when we were on vacation. It isn’t that we can’t drive, but if a place is close and safe enough to walk to then we might as well walk. I used to love taking walks during the day before I started working full-time, and now try to find the time in the evening when I’m finished for the day. It’s nicer now that it’s spring, now that it’s brighter in the evenings. Because when I walk it’s usually alone, and even though I’ve walked around my neighbourhood many times in the day and felt safe I’m afraid to do so at night. It’s not that anything has ever happened in my neighbourhood (not that I know of anyways) but this is what women are taught, it’s dangerous to go out alone, especially after dark.
More than walking in my neighbourhood, I love walking in forests and in nature. I’ve gone on hikes with my friends and school groups in the past, but never alone though I’ve desperately wanted to. I choose what I know and what’s safe, and what’s safe is my neighbourhood. The trails are not, at least not alone.
And that isn’t fair.
And I know from when my local sexual assault centre came to talk to my Women’s Studies class that most rapes occur in the afternoon or early evening like the assault that took place on the trail, and I know its rape culture that perpetuates these myths, but they’re ingrained in my head and so many other women’s. I know that being alone doesn’t mean anything and that I could probably walk the trails by myself a hundred times and nothing would happen to me. But there’s always the chance that one time something will.
It’s amazing how years of being told how to avoid assault will do to a person.
And this is what women think about whether they like it or not during their daily routine. Text your friend about the guy your meeting, where you’ll be, what they should do if you don’t reply back. Holding your drink, checking your drink, being afraid of taking your eyes off your drink for even a second. Wanting to go for a walk in the woods alone, day or night, and knowing you can’t.
When I walked in the woods on Friday I felt safer. Though I was largely alone on the trail with a few runners passing by me, it was probably one of the only times, maybe the only time that I’d ever felt comfortable enough walking their alone. I won’t deny I was a bit hesitant when I started, thinking of all those old fears, the thought of what could happen alone. But as I started walking down the trail I felt more comfortable know that there were people somewhere on here that cared even if they were further away, knowing that so many people in my city cared for the safety of women on these trails. I wasn’t afraid.
I read a tweet once that hypothetically asked the question that if a curfew was placed on men and they had to stay indoors from say 9 p.m. on what would women do, and the responses from women were so sadly ordinary. Many said they would go to a club without worrying about watching their drink, and many more said they would just want to go for a walk at night, knowing that they wouldn’t need to worry about being hurt.
Obviously a curfew against men is completely unrealistic and the tweet just served to show the simple things women are looking for in life, the main thing being to feel safe.
And I hope one day we can be.
(Picture my own from the Take Back The Trails Hike.)
(If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, here are some resources.)