Run, Or Yell For Help? Local Women Discuss Their Fear Of Being Attacked By Men

“I’ll cross the street to avoid walking next to someone if it’s dark and I’m on my own. I’ve also walked with 911 predialed on my phone,” said Baden’s Kate Laing Kwok

Wellesley and Wilmot women, Marj Haid, Karen Bertram and Kate Laing-Kwok, candidly discuss their concerns of safety, both here and when travelling outside of the townships. (Photos submitted)

Wellesley and Wilmot women, Marj Haid, Karen Bertram and Kate Laing-Kwok, candidly discuss their concerns of safety, both here and when travelling outside of the townships. (Photos submitted)

In March, 33-year-old Sarah Everard was abducted and killed in London, England while walking home at night. A Metropolitan Police officer has been charged with her murder. Her death sparked many discussions, including here in Canada, where women shared their fears of being harmed by men while going about their daily lives.

On social media, local women talked about walking with keys between their fingers, ready to jab an attacker.

“Been there, done that,” posted one.

“I also pretend to be talking on the phone (loudly),” added another. “I do this quite often if I’m walking at night. I take the longer route to walk on streets with lights. I let my friend know when I’ve arrived home safe.”

One woman recalled, “I had a conversation with a male acquaintance about how he runs at night. I said ‘You know that you can only do that because you are male, right?’”

Lifelong St. Agatha resident Marj Haid said growing up in a small town meant she never feared for her safety.

“I’ve walked these streets many nights without giving anything a second thought,” she said. “As kids, we roamed streets playing, riding bikes. Even my children did the same.”

That sense of security started to fade in the 1990s.

“Not until the time of the Paul Bernardo and Michael Rafferty trials did I start to realize things were happening closer to home, and precautions should be in place, and kids watched more closely.”

Although Haid has never found herself in a dangerous situation where she felt threatened by a man, thoughts of vulnerability have crossed her mind.

“I automatically call friends to see if they would like to join me in a walk, and yes, absolutely more so at night,” she said.

She wonders if women’s fears are fueled in part by TV programs.

“Who could possibly blame us? There are more cop and emergency shows on now. Where did all the fun ‘I Love Lucy’ type of programs go?” she lamented.

A 2019 report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives assessed 26 communities to determine “The Best and Worst Places to be a Woman in Canada”. Waterloo Region, specifically the Tri-Cities, ranked last when it comes to women’s personal safety.

That doesn’t surprise Haid, who feels much safer in Wilmot than in a city.

“Crime is everywhere, but my guard is down less when I am home,” she said.

Wellesley’s Karen Bertram was taught as a teenager to take precautions and avoid behaviour that might put her at risk from male violence.

“My dad used to make me wear a ball cap when I drove alone at night, so people wouldn’t know whether I was a girl or guy. He was always nervous of his daughters out at night alone.”

When she was a student, there was an occasion when she had to take evasive action, yelling to imaginary friends up ahead to deter a male stranger who was following her. She found safety that night in a well-lit building.

Bertram said, “There was a ‘protect yourself’ seminar in university that gave me a ‘toolkit’ to protect yourself, including parking your car under a light in a parking lot, how to carry your keys, when to run, when to yell for help. Nowadays, your cell phone can be a great tool as well, since it is so easy to call 911, or take a picture of something suspicious.”

She listed the precautions that she takes regularly.

“Never walk at night alone. Always let someone know when you arrive at your destination. Have ‘Find My Friends’ set up on my cell phone. Stay in well-lit, known paths. Keep your purse zipped and close to you.”

Bertram said she feels much safer in Wellesley than a city.

“Neighbours watch out for neighbours here.”

Baden resident Kate Laing Kwok grew up near Soper Park in Cambridge. From a young age, there were places she avoided, especially at night.

“The rule in my neighborhood was always to come in when it got dark, and there were areas of town I wasn’t allowed to go to, period. From the time I was 10 or 11, I knew never to be near the bus station on my own.”

Now that she’s a mother, she worries about her own children. A few years ago, at Kitchener Market, a man attempted to snatch her son.

“Child abduction by a stranger is one of those things police will tell you is rare, so experiencing it first hand shattered any feelings of safety I had in the city, especially since it occurred in a really public place,” Laing Kwok said.

“I beat myself up for not physically interfering with the man who tried to take my son, but the police officer reminded me that I described him as 5’11” and a 220 lb well-muscled man. My 5’6” self, no matter how p----- off, was unlikely to win that particular fight. It still haunts me, though.”

The incident is one of the reasons her family moved to Wilmot.

Even as an adult, she’s still careful about where she goes on her own, and when. And, like many women, Laing Kwok’s cell phone is a central part of her safety routine.

“I stick to well-lit areas. I avoid crossing the wooden bridge over the creek in the little park in Baden. I’ll cross the street to avoid walking next to someone if it’s dark and I’m on my own. I’ve also walked with 911 predialed on my phone.”

She’s constantly aware of her surroundings, observing vehicles and their license plate numbers, and memorizing the identifying features of people she feels threatened by. Describing herself as a “mother hen”, she does head counts when out with girlfriends, insisting they go to the bathroom in groups, and making sure no drinks are left unattended.

Initially, Laing Kwok felt safer in small-town Wilmot, but she says that changed “after some racial tensions over the summer.” Her husband, Jon, is a person of colour, and she’s noticed discomforting glances from residents when out for a walk with their kids. “I’m a little more cautious.”

Laing Kwok hopes the Township will invest in better lighting in parks and pathways to make them safer.

“With two kids, night time is some of the only time I get to myself. Going for a walk while feeling safe would be amazing.”