The Vagenda

My Terrifying Walk to Work


I am angry. I am angry that this week, I felt physically intimidated – because I am a woman. It was a normal day, certainly nothing out of the ordinary, and on paper a seemingly simple occurrence. Perhaps you may even think I am overreacting. Yet I felt scared, frustrated with myself and, frankly, pissed off that this happened. Observe:

I walked through Liverpool city centre this week to the train station, to travel back home to work. It was early – I mean 6am early – but the sun was shining, birds were singing and the streets were deserted. It was all quite pleasant, and I must admit that I thought how strange it was to feel so safe. I didn’t worry about walking alone at that strange time at all – and why should I have done? I love the city, and it was a beautiful morning.

Then, I head further into the city centre, and it begins. People start to pop up out of the blue like daisies. Annoying, paralytic, sleazy men daisies. A club must have recently closed, because there was an alarming amount of super drunk men (the type of drunk you can only get after drinking until 6am on a Tuesday morning. A TUESDAY, people!) staggering around in their sweaty party shirts, kebabs in hand. One man lurched towards me, slurring something unintelligible. I veer around him and speed up my pace. It strikes me that I am the only girl, and indeed the only sober person, in this situation, and I feel wary.

In front of me, four men are weaving their way up the street, shouting, screaming and generally being dicks. They start to fight, punching and kicking each other to the ground, having the occasional reconciliatory moment before returning to the more important task of beating the crap out of each other. There is no way I can walk past them, I realise. My instincts are urging me to get away from this situation, so I do. I make a U-turn to reroute.

It’s only then that I see a man standing silently behind me, watching me. He had just walked past me up the street, barely noticeable against the four fighting guys ahead, but now looking remarkably creepy. He stands there, having been staring at the back of my head, blowing smoke rings as he watches me. Now who do I take my chances with? The four drunk men, or the creepy headwatcher?

After doing a conspicuous little dance of confusion (that did nothing to make me look any more confident) back and forth on my heels for a few seconds, I sigh and head for the creeper. He’s going the opposite way to me anyway: up the hill, as I turn right into a deserted street. Like an idiot.

But no. Now he’s changed routes too and is behind me, walking a little too fast in the wrong way. I speed up, turn and gasp; now, he is right behind me, brushing my arm. He is too close; it is too quiet. I walk as fast as I can, not knowing what the hell to do. He lurks up behind me steadily for a few moments, and then I run – as fast I can until I arrive back onto a street with more people. He disappears, and I breathe easily. Until I bump into the drunk men again, who are now all the best of friends and start screaming at me to suck them off. Which I politely declined.

How is it justifiable that, in 2014, I have to reroute my path to work to avoid a dangerous situation – only to get into another situation? It was 6am and light, not exactly a dangerous sounding time of day. I am sure I would have also felt slightly worried to be a man if I saw people fighting ahead, but not in the same way, and I’m sure not in the way I felt threatened sexually. And I am convinced that if I were a man, that silent creeper would not have followed me or brushed my arm, or that worse may have happened.

I may sound paranoid, but I genuinely believe something could have happened that morning. I felt unsafe, I felt intimidated and my instincts were screaming at me to move – but there was nowhere to go. It got me thinking: what if something had happened? Would it have been my fault, for thinking that walking to work alone is a good idea? Most people would probably disagree; I mean, it’s a legitimate excuse, I was dressed in work clothes, I hadn’t had a drop to drink. But what if something had happened and I too had left the club at 6am, wearing a little black dress? What if I was sober in the dress? And what if I had been drunk? I’d have certainly been more vulnerable, and I’m sure people may have had slightly different ideas about who was to blame then. And yet, surely I should be free to feel safe in both a little black dress and black work suit.

The fact that we have to consider what to wear and where to walk when going anywhere is a problem. The fact that women can feel intimidated for absolutely no reason is a problem. The fact that I feel embarrassed to tell this story, because it may be “just nothing” is a problem. But for every little occurrence we brush off, another incident occurs. For every “it’s nothing” we usher under the table, or refuse to utter, another attack isn’t taken seriously.

If we feel afraid, or angry, or upset, then it’s a problem if we don’t express it. This isn’t the first time I’ve felt unsafe out alone because of who I am, but it’s the first time I felt properly, genuinely frustrated about it in a long time. I would never usually talk about something like this. But if I don’t speak up about it, how will I know how many other “just nothings” happen to other people? How will I know if others agree with me, or talk about how we can change things?

I should be able to feel safe in walking anywhere, at any time, in any place. And so should you.

- Alex P

28 thoughts on “My Terrifying Walk to Work

  1. I was threatened on saturday by a truckdriver when putting bottles in the bottle bank. It was quarter to one in the afternoon by the way in bognor. Its left me a bit shaken and i do feel embarrased by it and angry too that such a mundane activity has left me with a sense of fear.

  2. Holy crap, that is terrifying- but thank you for bringing it up. Very glad you’re okay!

    A friend and I had a similar experience on a deserted country road a couple of weeks ago. We were followed by several blokes firstly asking for a snog, then for sex and lastly (as we walked past ignoring them) shouting that we were slags, needed them to “give us a good shag” etc etc. Although at the time we just kept walking and tried to uneasily laugh it off, the stuff they were coming out with and the way they were acting (running up behind us) was intimidating – and there were two of us!

    At the time, I was just glad to be out of the situation, but I wish I’d reported it to the police. I don’t know if they were drunk (at 5pm?) or on something, but with hindsight, I’m concerned about who they went for next. I got a serious sleazy/violent vibe from them. You’re right- it’s not nothing, and it’s not okay.

  3. You are not being paranoid at all! I’m sure most of us have experienced similar situations to this, if not to quite this extent. It makes me angry too. Why should I genuinely have to think twice about walking home from a evening out – drunk or sober(!!) – because of the behaviour misogynistic idiots.

  4. I’ve heard that that time of day has a higher incidence rate of assault than, say, 3 am, because there are fewer people around to be at risk of getting caught.
    As someone who used to present as male I know that sometimes people end up feeling threatened where it isn’t at all intended (I’ve noticed women crossing the street from me walking home at night, and felt scared myself when notably female), which I think can only be solved by getting rid of the intentional intimidation you experienced here. It’s difficult to change perceptions by calling people up on it, when that can make a situation worse.

  5. I’ve walked up and knocked on someone’s door to try and escape a lose-lose situation like above. I have been lucky this method has so far worked for me.

  6. This was such a great piece. I get that everytime I walk down my street. I live in innercity Dublin and the vast majority of men on this street see me as a pair of tits that so clearly want to be harrassed ny guys twice my age.

  7. A few months ago I was walking into university when a guy called me over. It was the start of a semester, and there have been quite a few people getting lost on campus, so I stopped to ask if he was ok. It turns out that he was just stopping me to be creepy and intimidating. I slowly backed away, and walked into my faculty building, clearly repeating ‘I don’t want you to talk to me’. I was seriously jittery and paced up and down the foyer for a bit before my class, and our (incredible) security guard came over and asked if I was alright. I initially said I was fine, and then explained that I felt bad for even mentioning it, because it was ‘probably nothing’, before telling him about the intimidating man outside.

    This security guard patiently explained to me that if any person, man or woman, made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe, it was his responsibility to ensure my security, or that of any other student. He went outside and made sure the guy cleared off, and then passed his description to the local police (we have a police box on campus) with a request to move the guy on if he came back. He came and sat near where I was waiting for my class until some other students arrived, and then smiled and told me to enjoy my class when I left for the seminar.

    The man outside university was probably not a threat. He was probably just very misguided about what constitutes attractive confidence, and when that becomes intimidation. But nonetheless, he made me scared, and my first reaction was to tell the security guard that ‘it was nothing’. I have never been more glad to be educated by a kind and understanding individual that the safeguarding my happiness and well-being is not ‘nothing’.

  8. What a horrible experience. :(

    This bit stood out for me though:

    ‘Most people would probably disagree; I mean, it’s a legitimate excuse, I was dressed in work clothes, I hadn’t had a drop to drink.’

    Nothing on the level of your horrid experience, but a couple of years ago I got catcalled in the street and do you know, whenever I told anyone I found myself automatically describing what I was wearing too. And my friends all do the same when they describe similar experiences.

    Now how fucked up is that? That we somehow feel the need to justify that we aren’t to blame for the decision to try and intimidate us made by sleazy, horrible people? That we weren’t ‘asking for it’?

    ‘And yet, surely I should be free to feel safe in both a little black dress and black work suit.’

    Damn right you should be, we all should be. I have now consciously made the decision not to include details of what I was wearing when telling these sorts of stories, because it just isn’t relevant – by omitting it, I remind myself of its irrelevance too. (Although I understand why it’s in this article – to make the important point that actually it doesn’t matter what you are wearing). But I do think that it’s important to get out of that habit generally.

  9. That’s really awful! I used to think that the most dangerous time to be out was after dark, late at night, depending on time of year. But after some recent sexual assaults in my area, I realised that time of day was irrelevant. One happened at 11pm, one at 6pm and one at 4am. 6pm is when people are coming home from work usually, so what exactly are we supposed to do? Not go to bloody work!?

  10. I had a similar experience when a guy pushed me against a wall on my way home early one morning (around 5am) and asked if I wanted to suck his dick and I, too, find myself describing what I was wearing and assuring people (unbidden, I add, because my friends are awesome), that I wasn’t drunk. The fuck is that about?

  11. I had a similar experience when a guy pushed me against a wall on my way home early one morning (around 5am) and asked if I wanted to suck his dick and I, too, find myself describing what I was wearing and assuring people (unbidden, I add, because my friends are awesome), that I wasn’t drunk. The fuck is that about?

  12. Yes, yes and yes. I have felt this many times before. Thank you for not listening to the little ‘it’s nothing voice’ – thank you for sharing.

  13. Sorry you had to deal with that shitty experience before a long day of work.

    I’ve walked to work at 5am in winter and back home at midnight and the worse I’ve had is a bunch of stoned guys yelling across the street from their house and a homeless guy aggressively asking for money. The majority of cat calls actually happens in broad daylight to me.

    In work it’s been worse (city centre shop) I’ve had a drunk man grab my arse and try and kiss me!! As I’m a female it automatically makes me fair game, never mind I’m in a embarrassing uniform and working.

    God it makes me angry, this is 2014 in a developed country and I’m pretty sure everyone on this planet is here because a woman went through 9 months of pregnancy and hours labour. Grrrr

  14. This brings back unpleasant memories of my youth and worked a lot of evening jobs.

    I can’t believe people still need to have it explained to them that no one has the right to make sexual comments at complete strangers, or accost strangers for any reason for that matter,

  15. Reading the above makes me glad I am well into my 60′s and overweight. No problem of this type with strange men cordially inviting me to suck them off or anything equally disgusting.

    My problem is a little bit different. Two times in one week as I had just entered the subway, a well-dressed middle-aged man in a business suit muttered “fat ass” as he passed me. I guess I was supposed to act dignified, as befits my age, and just keep on going but I turned around and cussed him out for all he was worth, and I didn’t mince any words either. Coward that he was, he just kept on walking, never turning around. And as I said, if once wasn’t bad enough, I had it happen again, with another middle-aged suited man. He got a cussing-out too. Seriously, what’s up with that? They just can’t mind their business? I guess the aim is to intimidate women. I think they’re so shocked when women call their bluff and give it right back to them, and in spades, that they don’t know what to do and just leave. They’re like animals, that smell fear. If you exude fear in your demeanor, they’re relentless and will just keep coming for you and giving you a hard time. When you’re able to fearlessly confront them, they back off — some of them anyway, except the die-hard psychos.

  16. I absolutely totally agree. I’ve had experiences where I’ve felt scared that something is going to happen and nothing has, but I should never have felt scared in the first place. I should be able to live in a world where I can walk between two places and not feel intimidated by the opposite sex. I should live in a place where my gender has no impact on my safety.

  17. Thanks for sharing this. This issue has actually been on my mind a lot lately. I don’t live in a large city, nor in one with a high crime rate, yet I constantly feel like a target. I carry pepper spray with me on my afternoon jog, and I’m always making a mental note of where to run/what to do should someone try to attack me. I hate living like this.

  18. I know this feeling all too well.

    It was early morning also and I was on the train to work. I was shattered so I started drifting off in my seat. A guy sat beside me and I thought nothing of it as there was a free seat beside and it was a busy train. I woke up to find him shaking his leg (like when you really need to pee) against mine, with his arms folded so he could hide his hand as he stroked my arm. He was looking at the ceiling and didn’t notice me staring at him until I moved away. Not that I had anywhere to go. He had shimmied onto my seat so I was sandwiched between him and the window. When he realised I had woke up and was trying to move away, he grabbed his stuff and darted for the door, looking over his shoulder every now and then.

    I decide to share this incident with those close to me. One person laughed, the others said it was probably nothing and he probably was just impatient and in a hurry.

    Didn’t feel like nothing to me.

  19. I lived in Liverpool City centre for two years, up near the philharmonic hall, and I used to regularly walk to and from town at all hours of the day and night. If i was on a night out id usually leave around 3am and walking back on my own never intimidated me. Yet, walking what sounds like the same route as you did at 6am was horrible.
    My boyfriend used to get the 7am train home from lime street on a weekend when he stopped, and I used to walk with him and see him off. That walk was horrible because we walked past a strip club and you could bet your last penny on the fact there’d be some dick making comments. It wasn’t bad though when my boyfriend was with me, but walking past on my own terrified me, so much so I stopped it and got a taxi back home every time once I got to the point of being terrified for my safety. Why is it acceptable for a woman in 2014 to have to spend her money (which she already has less of compared to men) on getting taxis back to her house just to ensure her safety? Why is this acceptable?

  20. Your piece made me think about how would i stop this from happening. What changes should be done to protect every woman from feeling unsafe in the street.

    I dont have the answer but i live in a city where a woman feels safe 24 hours a day. The downside? Its a muslim country which means tiny black dresses are permitted but frowned upon. Im not saying religion is the solution. Im saying i just realised that banning alcohol (with exceptions) and making every person in the country have a strict work-visa situation and having rules in general creates a safe environment… especially for women.

    It could be that when everything is allowed we become animals in the jungle and instincts rule.

    Just thoughts.

  21. You write what a lot of women feel. My friend had her hair pulled out recently on a busy train by seriously creepy guy.

    It annoys me, no, it makes me ragingly angry, we’re socialized to make the disclaimer “maybe it was nothing…” or others say “well it’s over now…” like fear just goes away. Not only must one experience fear, but one must deny it too because being afraid makes other people uncomfortable. I’ve been there…

    I’ve been afraid to work past certain hours, afraid to be at work at times, afraid to walk certain streets, afraid to exist in space because… I’m female and there are men around who are not only enjoying their right to feel safe in space but making it clear the public space I occupy is in fact their space and they use harassment and/or violence to communicate that point.

    It sucks.

  22. Brilliant article and especially poignant in these times (and I fear will become even more so). I would however like to just add a small counterpoint. I, as a 13 stone pacifist male, have also faced situations like this where my style of dress or even general appearance has lead to me walking with apprehension among the streets of many a fair city. I don’t think this is necessarily due to gender more to the indicated point of intoxicated persons. I say persons because I have suffered abuse (both verbal and physical) from males AND females in a drunken state.

    I would also like to point out that as a straight male, I have also interviened and offered to be a stranger’s friend/boyfriend etc so we both can pass an awkward situation, both with and without success. These things happen in major cities. Does it make it right? No, but it also needs to be tempered with a degree of social awareness. Drunks on the street is not a new phenomenon, merely a more widely reported one.

    I suppose my point is that a woman walking a city street at 6am suffers no more risk than a slight gentleman. It’s not a gender issue.

  23. Tia – I’m afraid that doesn’t work as a general rule. It doesn’t take alcohol to make men harass women. Nor does clothing make any difference, when you can get women in burkas and niqabs still being verbally and physically harassed by the men around them.

    It’s down to male behaviour and attitudes. Those are what need to change.

  24. Tia – I also live in a country where this isn’t a problem at all, I frequently walk home on my own from friends flats at 3 in the morning (takes me half an hour) and have never even had a passing comment or in any way felt unsafe. However, it is a secular country where alcohol is readily consumed and women can wear whatever they want.
    I also happen to have lived in a Muslim country where little black dresses and public drunkenness are completely taboo, and it was the exact opposite situation where just in the time it took me to walk to the shop around the corner from where I lived I would probably have one or two men making jabs at me. I also know from speaking to local women who wear headscarves that they face the same problems as women who dare to venture out in a t-shirt and jeans. What we wear simply has nothing to do with what is in the harasser’s mind.

  25. Thank you for sharing this story. It’s horrible to see how many people have experienced similar things, myself included.

    I was verbally threatened on my bus commute, on the top deck of an otherwise empty bus, with an older man implying that I should strip naked for him. This threatening, misogynistic leering continued for a good ten minutes before he got off the bus, leaning in to shout at me as he passed. It has shaken me to my core to the point where I’m constantly worried when out and about by myself.

    Nobody, man or women, should have to feel fearful for their safety on their daily commute. The world is a terrible place.

  26. I was thinking these exact thoughts yesterday evening as I was walking around a park while my daughter was in a class. In Australia it is getting dark early now and I spent the whole walk looking around me and planning my escape route and tactics should anyone try anything. I also felt angry that I should even be having to have those thoughts. I do think Davyd that women face much more risk than a slight man. Why are so many men capable of behaving so badly? I spend time and effort making sure my son will never think that it is ok to intimidate anyone. Has anyone else seen that wonderful clip by Leah Green for the guardian where a woman goes around treating men the way women get treated? It is wonderful to watch because it really highlights how appalling the behaviour is- the men are all so shocked too- Also the french one of an alternate universe where the roles are switched- very clever because it makes it so obvious how wrong it is. Should be compulsive viewing for every man.

  27. Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad you’re okay. I had a sort of similar experience where nothing physical happened but I still felt totally violated.

    My walk to work takes around 40 minutes (and this was about 8:15 in Cardiff so there were a fair amount of people around walking, cycling, driving etc). I noticed a man walking in front of me with a camera sticking out of his back pocked, the lens out. I thought “He’ll drop that in a minute” and carried on about my walk to work.

    Then he turned around and walked back the other way, camera in hand, lens towards me. I thought it was odd, but carried on. It was a sunny day though and I could see in his shadow how close he was walking behind me. Then back past me he went, camera back in his pocket (this went on 3/4 times) then he went around the corner. As I turned the corner he was stood there with the camera held up pointed around face-level. I panicked and blurted out “what are you doing?” and he promptly walked in the opposite direction, clearly a bit spooked at having been challenged.

    I quickened my pace and had two options: usual route which is a bit deserted for 150/200 yards and has lots of lanes off it, or slightly different route which I know is straight solid pavement that I can run on. I took the latter option and legged it to to work. He didn’t see me enter the building (not my usual building so then I had to explain to security why I was hiding behind a plant) but as I looked out I saw him run around the corner where I’d come from and then stand on the street looking left and right to see where I’d gone.

    Like I say, he didn’t touch me or even say a word to me but it really shook me up and I won’t walk to/from work on my own since (it’s been over two years). Security in work were brilliant, the local police less so. I saw the guy a few weeks later – he came into a little Tesco metro while I was queuing to pay and I just threw my goods and left in a panic. I won’t run the risk of walking to work on my own, especially not that way, just in case.

  28. I am glad and sad to hear these stories. Unfortunately, women are at risk, anywhere, any time of day. This is just how life is and we need to do what we can to educate women. Yes, men need to change, but we should do all we can to protect ourselves at the same time. Keep telling these stories! I tell my stories to everyone I meet, men and women alike. I was not so lucky the first time a man decided he wanted me, I did not get away. For years I felt shame and that it was all my fault. Now, with more life experience and confidence, I am a warrior. I have taken martial arts classes, to defend myself. I also learned to be hyper aware of my surroundings and to not be afraid of appearing “stupid” or “overreacting” if a situation didn’t feel right. I’ve gotten myself out of the Metro in Paris after missing the last train at 1am, with a man chasing me. In my current town (small town America), I fended off an attacker by acting crazier than him, blowing smoke in his face and jumping around like I was on drugs or something. It scared him enough that he backed off and I was able to call the police. That is probably the best advice I can offer, if it gets to the point of no other options, just act really fucking crazy.