Harriet Walker: There are tactics for dealing with 'stranger danger'. But the risks don't go away


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The Independent Online

The heartbreaking story of the young woman who was raped after being turfed off a bus because she was 20p short should act as a cautionary tale. Not, I hasten to add, that the moral should be "Always carry emergency money" or "Get a taxi", but rather that the rest of us should be more aware of exactly how perilous things can be for young women on their own.

It's a depressing state of affairs: we can teach women (old and young alike) all the "stranger danger" tactics there are in the book, but while the strangers persist, so does the danger. The inevitable conclusion then is that women must either incorporate in their daily existence the anxiety and risk that travelling alone entails, or else vast swathes of their home towns and social lives become a practical impossibility. The majority should not have to stay home because of the marauding few.

The Nottingham case is clearly a terrible, terrible collection of doomed coincidences: missing your bus does not mean you will be attacked, but it ups the chances significantly. Blame has been directed at the bus driver for not letting the victim ride anyway. One could say it takes a special type of jobsworth to haggle for almost 10 minutes over 20p at 3am with a shivering girl who just wants to go home.

But you can also say that that's just how it works: if you don't have the correct fare, you don't travel. The world is a horrid, fiscal place; attention to 20p here and there is what keeps it ticking over. And that's precisely why you would have hoped that one other passenger on that bus might have stepped forward and paid the difference for her. But no one did. I imagine they hunched down further into their parkas and tapped their feet until the bus set off.

You can't make streets safe in one fell swoop. You certainly can't offer reassurance to women about the prioritising of their safety while also scything the police budget and number of officers on the beat. But you can help them feel that structures are in place that might enable them to live without the fear of rape or violent assault.

The students' unions at Sheffield, Cambridge and Warwick offer a free late-night bus service. At Durham, a £1 shuttle bus can be called at any time of night and gives priority to single travellers. Others are looking into trialling similar schemes, but money – as ever – is tight.

We are only as strong and as safe as the community that surrounds us. The links between social disintegration and violent crime are well proven. Sadly, though, in this case, the tear in our social fabric wasn't just caused by an attacker but also by those who turned a blind eye.

How to watch TV and feel better

Finally, a demographic which benefits from all these hyper-real, preternaturally glamorous portrayals of the human condition that you see on the telly. A study has found that television can also actually boost confidence – as long as you're a white male teenager. For them, the paragons they see on the screen are prestigious and powerful role models, who do well and get their own way.

For ethnic minorities and females of the same age, the gogglebox leads to a drop in self-esteem, presumably because it's so hard to find the former or to even recognise the latter underneath their seven layers of fake tan.

But then again, certain programmes do have a feel-good factor; I feel a great sense of relief when watching The Only Way Is Essex, for instance, at being nothing like any of the protagonists.

Not quite so cuddly under that mop

When Boris Johnson appeared on David Letterman's Late Show this week, one of the many uncomfortable questions he was asked was: "And how long have you been cutting your own hair?"

I have no problem with his spectacularly raggedy bouff being openly mocked, but Johnson is as unembarrassable as he is irrepressible, and the affectionate teasing of his delightful eccentricities serves only to cloud the fact that he is a rather ropey and insidious politician.

Boris Johnson might look like a teddy bear but he's more of a grizzly. So let's stop pandering to him, shall we?