Before coming to college, I didn’t really walk around much by myself at night.
If I did go out at night, it was always with friends, and I would always either drive myself home or get driven by someone else. I also lived in the suburbs, so if I did walk somewhere at night, it was fairly safe. Since coming to USC, this has changed by necessity. I don’t have a car, but even if I did I wouldn’t use it to drive across campus to hang out with my friends, or go to the library or a late night Starbucks run.
And even though I am often in a group, if I’m hanging out with people who live in other dorms, I will inevitably end up walking home alone. Sometimes that’s gonna be at 3 am.
When I first got here a couple months ago, I would always hear my mother’s voice in my head. “Whatever you do, don’t walk around by yourself at night. You never know who’s going to be around and what can happen.”
At one point early in the semester, while talking to her on the phone, she told me about her friend’s daughter’s experience in college: she had been walking home alone one night and a man jumped out of the bushes and attempted to strangle her. Law enforcement was able to intervene, but the worst came very close to happening.
So I got an app where my friends could “virtually” walk me home, and I did use it once. But once I got more used to the routine of walking home alone, I ended up deleting it.
There’s sort of a feeling of freedom that comes with walking alone at night. When it feels like you’re the only person on campus, and the world is yours. The nighttime air seems pleasant, not frightening, if you are in the right mindset. But there’s always that thought in the back of my mind: what if the worst did happen to me? I can get almost to the point of feeling like a man, with nothing to worry about, just taking a walk, but this freedom doesn’t ever really exist for me.
A recent weekend, on Saturday night, I was walking home alone after a party, scantily clad, and I realized that I resembled every female character in a horror story that gets separated from her friends and is then horrifically murdered. It’s her solitude that puts her in danger. As women, we’re taught to fear solitude above all else, and not without good reason. We go to the bathroom in packs, we take pains to not get separated at parties, we don’t let each other walk home alone when we can avoid it. But sometimes you can’t avoid being separated. It just happens. And what then?
So much of what we do for fun as college students is subtly dangerous to women. Every time we go out and drink, there’s a chance of getting raped, or even killed, if we somehow end up alone. The only way to be completely safe is to never go out at all. And I’m not talking about just parties. I’m talking about not leaving your dorm if it’s past 9 pm. That’s the choice we always face as women: accept the limits to your freedom or say “fuck that” and put yourself in danger.
Neither is a great option, but that’s where we’re at.