A study done by Farah & Farah revealed that women feel more unsafe and spend more time worrying about their safety or escape from danger during day to day activities than men. In other news, rain is wet and the sky is blue. Gender-based violence and sexual assault against women is a worldwide epidemic; it plagues the United States too. And while the results of the study called The Sexes’ Sense of Safety: How Men and Women Fight Fear in Everyday Situations are not surprising, the disparity in the way women vs. men navigate their lives because of the fear of threats is a startling reminder that we still have so much work to do in our society.
Before digging into the scenarios covered in the survey, Scary Mommy asked a representative from Farah & Farah to distinguish between gender and sex of the participants. The title of the study is a bit misleading, and the bulk of the results refer to men and women and not sexual anatomy of the participants. Also, LGBTQ people, specifically transgender women, are more susceptible to violent attacks and rape. Scary Mommy wanted to know if those demographics were collected in the survey and if any more information could be gathered based on sexual orientation or identity.
Stephanie Buzano responded, “In the survey question, we allowed people to self-identify; 513 participants identified as men and 494 identified as women. We did not ask what their assigned sex was. 89.6% of participants said they were straight. 5.4% were bisexual. 4.7% were gay or lesbian. Less than 1% identified as asexual.”
Buzano confirmed that the sample size was too small to draw conclusions specifically about the feelings of safety of LGBTQ people.
But when it comes to self-identified women, no matter their sex or sexual orientation, fear creeps in on a daily basis because of their gender. 53.7% of women in this study reported that their top fear is sexual assault. This is sadly not surprising either. According to RAINN, 1 out of 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. As of 1998, 17.7 million American women had been victims. And these are the reported numbers. Also, as of 1998, 2.78 million men have been victims of attempted or completed rape. Because of this lower, but not insignificant, number, the men who participated in the Sexes’ Sense of Safety survey rated sexual assault as the thing they fear the least. Death is at the top of their worry list.
For women, the study reported that 50% of women say physical attack is their second fear, followed by dying, burglary, and mugging. Women are not just afraid to die; they are afraid to live.
Lisa Schechtman for Amnesty International writes: “In 2008, approximately 500 women were raped every day in the U.S., according a National Crime Victimization Survey. Domestic violence was highlighted as “an extremely underreported crime.” When reported, it is rarely prosecuted and where investigated, has a low conviction rate. This is a global truism.”
The study showed that women are constantly worried about their safety when jogging or walking at night, walking to their car at night, using an elevator or stairwell in public spaces, taking public transportation, traveling, or allowing a maintenance person into their home. Women felt most unsafe when alone, yet most of the time men felt 50% safer in the same situations. No one should fear being alone. Nor should we jump to the conclusion that women need men to feel safe.
Women and men don’t need men to be protectors; they need them to not be predators.
Both men and women reported the safety measures they take at home and in public, and rated how much safer they actually felt by taking some of those precautionary steps against their fears.
Women, more so than men, carry the weight of worry and planning for protecting themselves.
More women always kept their doors locked while at home (82.8% vs. 70.9%); more women left lights on at home when away (68.2% vs 50.9%); more women held keys between fingers when walking alone (58.4% vs. 26.7%); more women immediately locked car doors and drove away (69.3% vs. 40.4%); and more women than men had a plan to escape their home (37.9% vs. 26.1%) or change up their daily routine so that they couldn’t be followed (28.0% vs. 13.5%).
Women also reported calling or texting a friend when they arrived safely to their destination. Others reported talking to a friend while walking along. But take note that “experts discourage some forms of communication, however: The distraction of answering a text might leave you vulnerable to a sudden attack. Many seem to be aware of this risk, as 36 percent of women and 19 percent of men avoided texting while walking alone.”
I was very aware of this recently while traveling for work. I was in a new city, and while my walk from one hotel to another was only about three minutes, I was hyperaware of my surroundings. If I was walking at night, I kept my phone in my pocket and my hands ready to push or punch someone if necessary. I am a queer, nonbinary and masculine presenting person; I have a female body. I have lived experience as a female. I carry the fear of being vulnerable because I have a vagina.
Statistics show I am more at risk because of my identity and queerness.
A report done by AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct highlighted that “21% of TGQN (transgender, genderqueer, nonconforming) college students have been sexually assaulted, compared to 18% of non-TGQN females, and 4% of non-TGQN males.”
Women are not only trying to get through busy and stressful days, they are doing so while constantly anticipating sexual or physical attacks. Even when in their own home, women don’t feel safe.
This is a problem.
Scary Mommy asked Buzano what needs to change for women to feel safer being women. She said this: “I can’t speak on behalf of all women but for everyone to feel safe in their own bodies, we need a growing level of respect and dignity for all persons. As well as, a justice system that treats every person, regardless of gender, race, or sexuality, equally under the law.”
Walking alone or at night, dressing a certain way, or leaving a window open are not reasons for violence against women. These are normal activities that women do not feel safe doing because predators take them as invitations to become violent. Women, nonbinary folks, and feminine presenting people don’t need more plans or weapons; they need societal change and people to be aware that they are at higher risk for harm.
A woman’s everyday routine should not have to include plans against sexual and physical assault. Women should get to assume that they will make it safely from point A to point B. Until then, women are looking for ways to protect themselves even when they are home.