The police may mean well, but they're wrong to tell women to 'try and avoid walking alone at night'

If we don't want to be sexually assaulted outside, then it's on us to stay indoors
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The Independent Online

Last week, I wrote about the alleged "minefield" of giving compliments, and explained why a man should not approach a lone woman on a dark street to chat her up. This week, I'm going to write about a man who has been approaching women on dark streets and sexually assaulting them. So for anyone who's still asking, that's why.

Recently, police appealed for help in finding the man behind four sexual assaults in London. In each case, he followed the victim, attacked her, then ran away. The crimes happened at 2am, 3am, 5am and 8.15pm, in various streets in Hounslow, and the suspect is between 5ft 4ins and 5ft 8ins tall, with brown hair. The police have increased patrols and offered safety advice, including "avoid wearing headphones" and "carry a personal safety alarm".

They also said this, which enraged me: "Try to avoid walking alone at night. Keep to well-lit main roads where possible …" Once again, the implication is that if women don't want to be sexually assaulted outside our homes, then it's on us to stay indoors. (What happens to some women inside their homes is a story for another day.)

I appreciate that the police have a tricky line to tread, and I'm grateful for everything they're doing to catch this criminal. But advice like this is not helpful. This is December. It is dark in London from 4pm till 8am. Should women "avoid" going to work until this man is caught (if he ever is), or are we supposed to wait for a licensed taxi to take us between the nearest well-lit main road and our house?

And, since the criminal in this case is known to be male, why should it be women who have to stay under house arrest? I am not suggesting that all men with brown hair should be arrested if they walk alone at night – because that would be almost as ridiculous as suggesting that all women stay in – but the balance here is wrong.

Since reading the advice, I still have to walk home from my nearest Tube station (in the borough next to Hounslow) and turn into my dark cul de sac alone – and now I am doing it in fear. I'm angry that police advice has done that to me.

The police tell me that all their safety advice is in line with organisations such as the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. They're not aware of ever having offered self-defence classes in response to attacks on women. And they do point out that this advice is directed at "people", not at "women". But, in this case, "people" are not being attacked; women are. Now we feel targeted by the well-meaning police, too.

For what it's worth, the website sells personal attack alarms and offers sensible guidance – which stops short of telling people not to walk alone at night. I'd suggest that women read it. And I'd ask men to wonder how they would feel if they were asked to stay home between dusk and dawn to avoid them having to feel afraid.