It was around 9pm and I was alone in my office.
The building was so quiet that the lifts had stopped working. They had turned off automatically from a lack of use – presumably the latest cost-of-living cutback – and I was the forgotten, lone worker.
I had no option but to get the stairwell. As I hurried down and into the street, it was a haunting reminder of the fact that I feel very much alone as a woman in a city of nine million people.
If someone bigger than me wanted to corner me on the stairs, I’d have been powerless to stop them from doing, quite literally, anything to me.
Danger shouldn’t be just around the corner in London, but it always feels like it is.
Sarah Everard was abducted less than a mile away from my house and while her kidnap and murder sparked outrage at the time, the bottom line is that almost two years on, women are still as vulnerable in the UK.
Ever since I moved here six years ago, at the age of 23, I’ve been verbally assaulted, catcalled, and robbed.
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When getting the bus home one night in London last year, I was called a ‘slut ’for turning down a man who propositioned me in front of his friends – none of them called him out on it.
Because it didn’t go any further, I have to consider myself one of the lucky ones.
Ever since I moved here six years ago, at the age of 23, I’ve been verbally assaulted, catcalled, and robbed
My housemate suffered repeated, separate assaults on nights out in South London last year, one weekend after the other; I had to drag her almost-lifeless body into the toilet after her drink was spiked just a few months ago.
I feel so at risk that I’ve had to quit my job.
I was nervous when my former company – which I joined during the pandemic – asked me to return to the office after Covid restrictions ended. My shifts began as early as 6.30am and could end as late as 10pm. These are very much unsociable hours.
My job can be done entirely remotely. There were no meetings in my office, and the people who told me to be there weren’t even based in London.
When I said that I was happy to work sociable hours from the office, but not late or early shifts, I was told my concerns had been passed onto HR and that we would have a meeting.
This meeting never materialised.
My company – which is run almost entirely by men – went on to assert that there were to be ‘no exceptions’ to the office policy. So I asked if I could travel in when it was lighter at lunch time or return home at dinner, depending on my shift, so that I felt safe. Management said no.
I reluctantly worked in the office at unsociable hours during the summer, but when the winter days – and nights – started to draw in, my worries, which I had been able to push to the back of my mind during the lighter months, returned.
I wasn’t the only woman who felt unsafe. When I had the comparative improvement of being in the office with one other woman, she took a longer route home so we could travel together for longer. But even then, I still had a 15-minute walk in the dark from the bus stop to my house.
I knew my days in the job were numbered the first time the office lights switched off automatically from a lack of movement in the building. I was soon doing less work – presumably the opposite of what management wanted – just so that I wasn’t typing in darkness.
But it was my trip alone down the deserted stairwell that was the final straw in inspiring me to quit.
I’ve now had to leave a job that I enjoyed because my safety was fundamentally more important than a pay cheque.
When I explained why I quit, I was assured that my concerns had been taken on board, but there was no offer of change to keep me – just a tiny pay rise that wasn’t even in line with inflation.
The whole thing made no sense to me. I was good at the job, and all I wanted was the flexibility to help me feel comfortable while doing it.
Companies need to listen to employees when it comes to female safety at unsociable hours. Whether it’s by having a buddy system to get them home safely, paying for transport, or simply letting them work from home when possible.
People, especially men, need to start calling out sexual violence when they see it and realise that life as woman – especially a young woman – is inherently more dangerous.
When I told a colleague that I wasn’t comfortable being in a virtually empty office at night, he said London is a safe city compared to other locations like Cape Town. He, like so many others, missed the point.
From the year ending September 2021, the highest number of sexual offences ever against women was recorded in England and Wales (40,572 offences), up 13% from the year before – and this was during a period when there were still ongoing Covid restrictions.
I ultimately left London because of the job, the assaults me and my friends have endured, and the rising cost of living – which kept me trapped in an area of the city that I’d honestly rather not be in.
I’m now moving to Bristol, where I can afford a small flat with extra security for the same price as a double bedroom in the capital. While I don’t necessarily know that other parts of the UK are safer, with more money in my pocket, I won’t need to think twice about getting a taxi if I ever find myself in an unsafe situation.
But not everyone has this option.
Despite what happened to her, my housemate is staying in London because she is only starting her career and does not have similar opportunities elsewhere.
If she moved, she would likely be on a less-than-minimum wage retail job, as she had been prior to retraining in the capital.
Like I said, I’m one of the lucky ones.
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