How do we feel safe when women are attacked so close to home?

Written by Leah Sinclair

Violent crime in London is nothing new. But the latest spate of attacks on women hits close to home  especially when they’re right on your doorstep, writes Leah Sinclair.

This morning, I read something that truly struck a chord with me.

A 27-year-old woman was hospitalised on Friday after she was stabbed in the back by a cyclist in Ilford. 

Reading this story made me stop in my tracks as I was reminded that Zara Aleena was killed in this very area two weeks ago – an area that I grew up close to and know like the back of my hand.

Growing up in Newham, violence wasn’t exactly a rarity. I would often go to school and hear of someone being “shanked” – that person was likely to be a friend of a friend or a cousin’s sister’s boyfriend. 

Or there was the spate of acid attacks that took place throughout the city in 2017. During that time, I recall walking around with a large bottle of water as “acid attack first aid” techniques spread across social media timelines and WhatsApp chats like wildfire and advised people to carry water as it could help.

Throughout my years, violent crime wasn’t ever too far away – so much so that the news of murders would leave me feeling heartbroken for the victims and their families, but were also difficult to emotionally process.

I guess there’s a slight emotional numbness that can come from a wave of negative news hitting you one after the other – especially during such formative years of your life when you hear about people the same age as you dying or being harmed. It feels unfathomable, cruel and almost too much to bear that sometimes you have to switch off emotionally. After all, if we felt every single bad thing that happened in this city, we’d be walking around filled with constant dread.

But the sad reality is, that emotional switch starts to flicker when things hit close to home. When someone is harmed near the school you used to go to, the area you used to hang out at, or with someone you know, these fears play on your mind that little bit more – and this recent spate of attacks on women is certainly something that has made me think and feel more and more each day.

I grew up a 20-minute bus right from Ilford, along the long stretch that is Romford Road, which would span all the way from Stratford to Ilford and beyond. My friends and I would visit the Cineworld in Ilford and get a cheeky Nandos afterwards. Or find ourselves randomly breezing through the rundown yet nostalgic Ilford mall, located in the heart of the area.

I have family not far from there, friends who’ve come and gone, as have I,and I’d be remiss to not think of these memories and the people I know and love when seeing Zara Aleena’s face on the news and online or when reading the story about the young woman who was stabbed.

Ilford doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to safety, but attacking women isn’t exactly what it’s known for either. And while we empathise and feel for women of gender-based violence across the UK, how do we navigate walking the same streets and visiting the same stores where we know something horrific took place a couple of weeks earlier?

It’s something that can have an untold effect on our mental health and it’s a sentiment that has been echoed by many.

Earlier this year, police figures revealed almost 250,000 street attacks, mainly on women, have taken place in England and Wales since the murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021. 

Met statistics also found 13 women, out of 39 homicide victims, have been killed in London so far in 2022. 

This violence is not new and needs to be seriously repaired. But how do we navigate through this space as women in London and not be consumed by fear?

It’s a question I and many other women have probably asked themselves and don’t have the answer to.

It’s understandable for those feelings to creep in – all you have to do is look at the news and anxiety can latch onto you quicker than you expect.

But there are steps that can be taken – starting by facilitating a structure that allows our voices to be heard. It’s important that the measures that make us feel safe are heard – as opposed to being told to not walk alone late at night and keep a rape whistle on us.

It’s also pivotal that men are prosecuted when they attack women and that this is taken seriously, not just among women, but all of us.

It’s a long road but it’s something that must be done.

After all, living in all-consuming fear is definitely no way to live – and it’s something I refuse to do no matter how challenging it can be.

Image: Metropolitan police / Getty

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