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Thread: Women and safety

  1. #1
    ‹bermensch
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    I regularly lead day walks, and occasionally longer trips, for two London-based women's clubs most of whose members are ex-pats from the US and Canada. Several times I been asked for advice on whether it is safe for a woman to walk alone in the countryside and it has become clear to me that many women fear for their safety when alone.

    I am currently writing the fifth edition of my book 'The Walker's Handbook' and you will find below my first draft on the subject. I should be grateful for constructive comments.

    'Female walkers may worry about their physical safety in the countryside which should make we males ashamed of our sex. Men do not suffer the indignity of being groped on crowded Underground trains nor subjected to unwanted comments about their appearance so it is difficult for them to appreciate the apprehension that some women feel when encountering a stranger in a lonely place. Although the chances of a woman being assaulted whilst walking in the countryside are negligible, mainly because predatory men are much more likely to seek a victim in an urban car park, nevertheless there have been a handful of cases in the last thirty years and many more of women being made apprehensive by thoughtless rather than improper behaviour. Even though the risk is usually perceived rather than actual, women who are nervous should consider walking either with a companion or a dog and also carrying a personal alarm or some other deterrent.

    Male walkers can play their part by considerate behaviour because although you know that you are harmless and have no evil intent, a woman does not. Nowadays, most men appreciate that greetings such as ?What?s a gorgeous girl like you doing all alone out here, then?? are boorish, offensive and intimidating, but may not realize that their own behaviour could also be misconstrued.

    The following advice to men is based upon the author?s discussions with members of women?s walking clubs:

    1 If you are walking in the same direction as a female, you know that it is because you are both heading for the same destination. However, she might wonder whether you are deliberately stalking her, so you should leave a considerable distance between you. If walking faster, you should wait for a suitable, non-threatening opportunity to overtake.

    2 If a woman is behind you and walking faster, stop to take a photograph or rummage in your rucksack to allow her plenty of time to pass and get some distance ahead before you resume walking.

    3 When you meet a woman greet her pleasantly but neither engage her in conversation nor look back when you have passed her.

    4 Small courtesies that would be agreeable in a town should be avoided to prevent the woman feeling any obligation towards you. If you meet near a gate, do not hold it open and wait for her, but walk through and call out ?Will you shut the gate, please?? Similarly, if you meet at a stile do not attempt to help her over.'



  2. #2
    Ultra King Parky Again's Avatar
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    4. you mean abandon good manners by holding a gate open? if anyone can feel intimidated by this action then perhaps they should not be out at all.

    2. you've spotted a woman walking faster behind you....by looking around? then you stop. are you rummaging or are you waiting to pounce? looks like a no win situation. or unless you're being stalked!

    1. this is just paranoia

    3. this is good manners irrespective of sex.

  3. #3
    Ultra King Ddyrchafedig Gyrrwr (Beic Modur)'s Avatar
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    Appreciate all that you are saying Hugh, but in my experience this seems a little OTT and perhaps feeding the fears, rather than dispelling them.

    I have seldom seen a lone female walking and have to say that I would caution against lone men taking to some of the more remote places. (obviously for different reasons)

    A few years ago a Paramedic friend and I were coming down from Penyfan in a horrendous snowstorm and saw a lone female who turned out to be a 20 year old student making her way up.

    My Paramedic Friend lives a the foot of Penyfan and knows this area like the back of his hand. We intervened and suggested that she abandon her ascent and she accompanied us down the Roman road escape route back to the car park. In 20 years of walking, this is the ONLY time I have seen a "lone female."

    As you say, the "predatory male" is hardly likely to be "hunting" for a lone female in such "wilds," but I wouldn't advice lone hiking in such places regardless of the sex of the walker.

    I have encountered groups of females however, and in nearly all cases, they hardly notice me, usually making a fuss of my dogs, and then talking to me.

    In all cases of meeting strangers on the hills, I am usually concentrating on controlling my dogs and utter the briefest of greetings as I pass. I usually ONLY engage in any further conversation at the other party's instigation.


    As a member of the Ambulance service, I know that even we have to ask permission to treat a person's injuries and explain in advance what we are going to do, so any tactile contact is a big no-no, unless by invitation!

  4. #4
    Ultra King Ddyrchafedig Gyrrwr (Beic Modur)'s Avatar
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    That's 30 years walking BTW, not 20.

    And I am with you on your points Parky.

  5. #5
    Ultra King Ddyrchafedig Gyrrwr (Beic Modur)'s Avatar
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    Oh and BTW


    If a lone female is walking behind me, she will have to be a Marathon runner to catch me, the pace that myself and the dogs go !!!



    ;-))

  6. #6
    Ultra King Weird Darren's Avatar
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    I have to say I thought lone males were more likely to be attacked than women (especially at night on the streets of a town).


  7. #7
    Ultra King MoS's Avatar
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    I think that the issue of personal safety when walking alone is an important one for both men and women. I do see lone women out walking - not many - but most weekends, at least one or two on Dartmoor, in quite remote locations.

    I used to walk alone every day in Cornwall - along the coast path for pleasure and via roads and fields out of necessity to get to the nearest village. I felt a little vulnerable at times and did a self defence course which made me feel much more confident. I would recommend that to anyone - it?s great for self esteem in all situations. The course I did happened to be for women, I chose it because it was local and the instructor was qualified and I liked her positive approach. It was a small group and we all came to it with some preconceived ideas about the risk to our personal safety. Towards the end of the course we had the opportunity to ?act out? and discuss our worst case scenario. Mine was being attacked by a male on my way home across fields in the dark. I normally hate role play, but this was a real insight and although a very testing experience it helped to put any fears I had into perspective. By the way, a personal alarm is only useful if someone can hear it!

    Hugh, thank you for raising the issue, I hope it provokes lots of discussion in this forum, especially from those women who are lone walkers. I think there is lots of information and practical advice out there to help men and women keep themselves safe. It would be very difficult to condense that in a helpful way but I applaud your motivation to attempt it. Another option would be better to raise the issue of personal safety and refer your reader to publications which focus on the issue in more depth. I appreciate that you are responding to fears made known to you, but everyone?s fears are different, some are real and some based on misconceptions. I wondered why you start by talking about the problem facing women and then go on to point out how men can behave to minimise this. I feel that it is my responsibility to look out for my own personal safety and a confident person is less likely to worry about other people?s behaviour. That said, if I was walking alone in an urban area and aware of someone keeping in step behind me I would be looking for escape routes as a precaution. I know that some men are very aware of how they can make a woman feel uncomfortable in that sort of situation - innocent actions can feel threatening and it is good to know that people are prepared to try and avoid giving that impression.

    Good luck with the rewrite.

  8. #8
    ‹bermensch Cara-Lyn:  Stealth Sloth's Avatar
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    I've heard of some of the advice Hugh gives, having been given to men before, but with regards to walking late at night when there is a lone female around. Like Elaine, if I'm alone in town at night, and hear someone behind me, I will suss out escape routes, and I'll also use windows of buildings to act as mirrors to see exactly where they are without having to turn my head.

    On the hill, however, I don't tend to worry. There are other dangers that are far more common, such as being alone and falling and getting injured. Plus, whilst in towns there are often opportunist attacks, how many men are really going to walk miles up a hill in the middle of nowhere on the offchance that there may be a lone female coming past at the same time they are there?


  9. #9
    Widdler FH's Avatar
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    Hugh,
    FWIW - picking up on the points already raised, I think that perhaps you should extend advice/warnings about lone walking to both genders. While attempts to educate the potential protagonists in these situations are laudible, perhaps more direct advice to the those who might be threatened would be more likely to be put into practice.

    If you must walk alone (and, let's face it, there is a particular pleasure in being alone in the hills) then take some extra precautions - inform someone of your intended route, ETA etc, carry a mobile phone (not always useful I know but better than a personal alarm five miles from anywhere), use passive defence behaviours - don't make eye contact, appear confident in your stance/stride etc, learn some basic self defence techniques (tender targets for knees, using your car keys to dissuade a would be attacker etc), these things are obviously only for use when things go badly pear shaped but simply knowing them can increase confidence.

  10. #10
    Initiate julian b's Avatar
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    I must admit im very aware that my mere presence can cause concern to the lone female walker and would usually be polite but standoff-ish.
    I know my wife doesn,t like walking on her own.

  11. #11
    Goon
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    I walk with my dogs in the hills daily, often not seeing anyone during the week. However, on the occasions I do meet up with gentlemen walking alone, I often find we walk together for a few miles and would hate to think this would change due to their fear to speak to us ladies. The only politeness I would urge males to adhere to is to give us plenty of warning your behind us, either coughing or whistling or just shouting to us of your presence. Btw i hate the idea of a man not being able to hold open a gate out of good manners all for the sake of PC!!

  12. #12
    Ultra King Jules aka  Bat Girl's Avatar
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    I did my first long solo hike at the age of 12 which included some night walking, I have never felt worried .Its nice to have a chat to anyone you meet on the hills.

    There are some safety issues related to lone walking but I dont feel they relate you what sex you are. I have only once heard of a female hiker being attacked in nearly 30 years.Its a rarety, not impossible but you are more likley to be struck by lightening, or die of exposure after a twisted ankle, thats a real risk of lone hiking.


    BTW I would never walk home late at night through town, allways get a lift or a taxi but on the hills I fell safe.

  13. #13
    Ultra King Ddyrchafedig Gyrrwr (Beic Modur)'s Avatar
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    I will hold the gate open for you if you are even my way Annie!

  14. #14
    Widdler
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    It's a sad indictment of todays society or rather todays percieved society that we are all even having this discussion. Personally as a girlie speaking I spend alot of time xc running on my own on Dartmoor and thoroughly enjoy it. If Bonners and Scott can crawl off the Ogre with various bits of their bodies broken in various places I'm damn sure I can crawl off Dartmoor with a twisted ankle wearing just a lifa and shorts! If I see other people then I am usually the first to exchange pleasantries. Regardless of gender isn't it just good manners to hold open a gate if someone is that close to it? Confidence goes a long way in these situations. If people are really that spooked they are playing in the wrong place. Why are we all so suspicious of each other? BTW Tony as a marathon runner I probably will be in front of you!!!!!

  15. #15
    Goon
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    would ya carry my pack too tony? (well hell was worth a try)!

  16. #16
    Ultra King MoS's Avatar
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    I appreciate the kind of appreciation julian and others show to lone women but it is ironic that the hills (generally a very friendly place as Annie says) should necessitate that type of sensitivity. It's sad that rather than appear too familiar and cause a woman to be uncomfortable, a man is more likely to give a lone woman a wide berth.

    I would say, be yourselves guys, do whatever you would normally do whether it be a group, lone man or lone woman. You can usually tell from somebody's body language or response, whether your presence or greeting is making them nervous. If it does just move on. The only exception might be when on the same route and 'apparently' following a lone walker. This has made me feel vulnerable in the past. In that situation I would pick a convenient spot and wait for the person to pass by.

    As others have said - its all about confidence. If walking alone feels scary then don't do it. People who give the impression of vulnerability are usually the ones who get picked on. If you want to walk and are unsure, do something to improve your confidence. As I said before, a good self defence course works wonders.

  17. #17
    Ultra King Ninja Marmot's Avatar
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    I am a female who walks alone at times. I love the solitude and time for reflection and the fact that I can walk at my own pace and not someone else's. I just feel so FREE doing it. I do see other sole females - maybe it's a Lakes thing but not a Welsh thing?

    Hugh's points.
    1. If I felt I was being followed, *I* would have a sit-down or butty until the bloke passed me. If he hung back I'd be more worried.

    2. From your sexual overtones in the intro, if a woman asked if she could join you...would it mean a come-on for the red-blooded male walker? I'd hope not...but your initial tone implies that some men 'can't help it'. Not true.

    3. Is just good manners. I walk alone to BE alone...if I see a couple at the place I'd planned to stop for a break, I'll walk on to find my solitude elsewhere. If I want to chat I'll go to a Glee Club or something.

    4. Bonkers. I'd hold the gate for anyone and expect the courtesy back. Stiles? Anyone who can't manage a stile shouldn't be out on their own and anyone who thinks that women 'need help' without being asked for should crawl back under their stones.

    FH is right - people of both genders have their own fears. WD is also right - the most likely person to be attacked in an urban environment is a male under 30.

    Starting the piece with a spiel about women's fears may end up a self-fulfilling prophecy in some minds - what if a person hadn't though about it before?

  18. #18
    ‹bermensch AlisonS's Avatar
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    I agree with the others. It's never even crossed my mind to feel uncomfortable about hillwalking on my own. I do it a lot and I often chat to people on the route. I have a reputation amongst my friends for going off on my own and ending up picking up some poor unsuspecting passer by.
    I think people should just be themselves on the hill and I don't want them to modify their normal behaviour on my account.
    Holding the gate open for the next person is just good manners and nothing to do with sex.
    The only time I've got really embarrassed was when I was clambering about on some rocks beside a footpath with my children whilst heavily pregnant and some elderly walkers passed by. I didn't manage to get the children off the rocks in time and we got mistaken for a stupid family in difficulty. I wanted to sink through the ground; but it would have been unkind of me to be nasty when they thought they were being helpful. Sometimes it's better just to force a smile and keep your mouth shut.

  19. #19
    Initiate Judith Sager's Avatar
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    I have walked alone regularly from quite a young age, initially with a dog for company and since leaving home totally alone. I have never felt threatened and my only worry has been having an accident. I generally ensure someone knows roughly where I am walking.

    I've just completed the coast to coast and whilst I set off on my own I completed the walk with three males all of whom I met on route.

    I have always been of the conclusion that you'd have to be totally bonkers to wait in the middle of nowhere for a lone female walker. There aren't that many of us so you'd probably end up with a cold and lonely wait.


  20. #20
    Goon
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    HW just a suggestion but possibly before you write any more in your handbook you could pitch up at an OM meet and spend time with real BRITISH girlies, rather than "precioius" ex pats? I led the life of an ex pat for a few unhappy years in Canada and the States and have to say the most important thing on most "wifey's" minds is the next game of tennis and the location of the gin bottle. Perhaps Caralyn, JJ and Jules to name just a few could give you a different perspective for your handbook, if you were to walk with them for a weekend? Grrr broke a nail typing that :-)(Where as the gin again?)

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