`In France I feel safe: I thought I'd be safe here'

Following the murder of a Swiss au pair, Karine, 20, tells how she was threatened with violence
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Indy Lifestyle Online
WHEN I arrived in London in September, it was so big - tentimes as big as Paris - and I felt a bit lost. It was my first time as an au pair in this country. I had come from Brittany, where I had been studying biology at university. My teacher got me the job here with a family that he knew. I didn't really think it would be any different from France. I'm from the countryside and things are very safe there.

At home I always used to walk at night. Then one afternoon in the middle of November, two-and-a-half months after I got here, I was in a quiet park in Tooting Bec. There were paths between the trees which were just wide enough for one person, and I was walking down one of them when I saw a man coming towards me. When I tried to go past he just wouldn't let me go through. He stood there looking at me, face to face.

I knew if I tried to run away he could catch me, so I started looking around for a piece of wood, maybe to use to get away from him. He had his hands in his pockets so I didn't know if he had a knife with him or what he was going to do next. I was so fr i ghtened - my heart was beating so fast it was painful. Then another man with a dog went past and I followed him. I don't know what would have happened if he hadn't been there.

I went back home to the house shaking, but I didn't want to tell anyone because I didn't want to worry the family. I wrote to my closest friends and said: "I met someone I shouldn't have met" but this is the first time I've really talked about it.

Now I've heard about this au pair who's dead. I suppose it could have been anybody, but it is still very frightening.

For a long time I'd asked myself what would I do if someone attacked me, but I never really imagined what would happen. Before, I thought I could walk anywhere. I'm quite tall and quite impressive so I have always felt untouchable. I do carry a Swiss Army knife, but not really to protect myself. I had it when I was stopped by the man, but I don't think I would have used it, and anyway it would have taken too long to get it out of my pocket.

I don't think France is safer than Britain, but I think it is the big cities which are not as safe as the countryside. London was completely wrong for me. Soon after that incident in the park, I left. The father of the family I was staying with asked me if I was not enjoying it any more and did I want to leave. I just said "yes" straight away, without thinking. Now I'm working outside London.

If you come to work here as an au pair you need to know something about the country. Au pairs who come with an agency should always be told about how to be safe - what to do and where to go. When I came to Britain I didn't have any warnings - nobody said"be careful".

8 Interview by Matthew Brace