Night walk raises safety awareness for women

Many women find themselves at risk of harassment when out walking after dark.

In order to address the anxiety many women feel when walking or taking transit alone at night, a group of self-identified women went on a walk of solidarity through downtown Vancouver after dark.

SFU Women’s Centre held its first Night Walk on Saturday, September 13, which invited self-identified women — including some who had experienced harassment when out at night — to take their safety into their own hands.

Participants met at SFU’s Burnaby campus, then took the bus to Production and continued on the skytrain to Downtown Vancouver to begin their walk. The group continued on foot through the downtown area, and then bused to East Hastings Street and Commercial Drive. The event lasted three hours.

The solidarity walk included not only SFU students, but women who take late night classes, work late shifts, or simply find the night a time to think clearly.

Women’s Centre coordinator Nadine Chambers said, “For me, [this event] was a way of focusing on the way that women walk through the world.” 

Chambers talked about the issues regarding victim blaming and encouraged a different sort of dialogue: “Let’s talk about what we should do, rather than just about what we shouldn’t do.” She referred to how the onus can be placed on victims’ shoulders to avoid being assaulted at night — wearing conservative clothing or walking with a man for safety, for instance.

The timing of the Night Walk was a deliberate choice made by the Women’s Centre to reflect when most women are out at night. “What many people don’t realize,” Chambers explained, “is that at around midnight, many of the women [. . .] who clean the skyscrapers downtown stream out to catch one of the last Skytrains. So 12:30 at night is the time when there are many women are on the Skytrain, [rather than] when all the clubs let out people later on.

“There are so many different ways to make a network with people who go out at night — they don’t just consist of the people who go out to clubs.”

One of the highlights of the night was the Women’s Self Defence Wenlido class, hosted by Diane Jacobs and held in real-time as they traversed the city. During the walk, participants were invited to share situations that made them feel at risk, afraid, or simply uncomfortable, and what they did in response.

The group also collectively addressed concerns such as how to effectively form a protective group, how to holler for help, and what to do if a stranger approaches. Self-defence instructor Diane Jacobs’ methods did not include any specific rules. She explained, “There is no wrong way [to defend yourself,] as long as it works.”

Jacobs also offered tips on intervening physically when confronted at night, and facing aggressors verbally with assertiveness, as well as texting your cab number to a friend. She mentioned that kneecaps are surprisingly easy to dislocate.

“Being aware of their surroundings and mentally prepared to confront possible attackers enables women to escape a majority of dangerous situations unharmed,” said Jacobs.

Participants and staff continued to trade stories for the rest of the evening, touching on everything from awkward bus conversations to stiletto-turned-weapon encounters on the streets.

The return trip to SFU on the 135 was filled with laughter, anecdotes, and a heightened awareness of both the risks and rewards of being a woman out at night.