‘When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’
I remember seeing that quote on the wall of a cocktail bar recently and scoffing. For me, it couldn’t be any further from the truth.
I’m tired of London. Sick and tired of feeling unsafe.
I’ve lived and loved in this city for over five years after moving here for my dream job – 300 miles away from my hometown, Newcastle.
I’ve lived in three different flats, in three different boroughs. One was the first flat I ever moved into with my now-husband – it had an illegal roof terrace above a pharmacy that you clambered onto through our bedroom window.
I remember celebrating our engagement with friends on that terrace, peering into the top decks of red buses, fairy lights twinkling as our music drifted off into the fumes. Life was good, I remember thinking.
This city is filled with never-to-be-forgotten memories, but still I know I have to leave.
I’ve never felt more unsafe, more afraid or more genuinely terrified.
London is no place for a woman.
I’ve lost things I once loved to this city. Running, walking alone in nature, listening to music through headphones, exploring new places, enjoying peaceful streets after dark – I no longer do any of those things that I once cherished. I can’t, it feels too unsafe for me now.
I can’t even walk down my own street alone, where I’ve lived for three years, without feeling like I’m suffocating from fear. I walk down the middle of the road, away from bushes, dark corners and car doors for fear of being kidnapped – during the day as well as at night.
When I’ve ignored or moved my seat from the men on the Tube who’ve sat next to me in near-empty carriages, I’ve been called a bitch, slut, slag, or c**t. I’ve been followed onto the platform, crying and sweating while trying to shake off a man I don’t know before he finds out where I live.
A man determined to hurt me simply for not wanting to speak to him.
I’ve felt the hot, rancid breath of too-close men on my neck on London’s buses. The flashing eyes of the opposite sex roving over my body at any season of the year, in any location, in any outfit, on this city’s streets – whether hand in hand with my husband, or alone.
I’ve been touched without permission. Shouted at. Catcalled. Harassed. Pushed. Cornered. My life threatened.
Now, I do everything I can in my power to not travel, or get in a cab, alone – and certainly not after dark. I jump at any sudden sound – both indoors and out – and catch my breath when men walk towards me, or behind me. Or when I see them in parked cars (police cars included).
In London, I’ve not only experienced real, blood-curdling fear, but grief. The grief of hearing about your female friends being sexually harassed and abused by strange men; of shedding tears during sleepless nights after reading that yet another one of your own has been murdered by another man, another stranger.
I’m not naïve enough to think that women are safe outside of London – they’re not – but who is there to protect me in this city?
London is England’s capital, its prized possession. But one of the world’s greatest cities is a hotbed for crimes against women.
In 2021, the number of London’s reported sexual assaults reached a 10-year high – with it reported that, on average, one rape is reported every hour, but only one in 20 leads to a charge.
In March of the same year, a serving London police officer nicknamed ‘The Rapist’ kidnapped and murdered 33-year-old Sarah Everard, not four years older than me, a mere 45 minutes from my flat.
The same police force saw two now-sacked officers take selfies with murdered sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, in a north-west London park in June 2020. They shared the pictures on WhatsApp, calling them ‘dead birds’.
The same force saw 14 officers swapping proclaimed ‘laddish’ WhatsApp and Facebook messages about raping women at knifepoint – nine have kept their jobs, with two resigning. One was allowed to return as a contractor in a staff role.
Only two were dismissed for gross misconduct.
And, so far this year, around a third of this city’s homicide victims have been women – and all suspects have been men, with numbers only rising since last year.
Two women were even allegedly sexually assaulted in the queue as they waited to pay their respects to the Queen, lying in state in Westminster Hall. Can I paint a dirtier picture of this ‘prized’ city for you?
Yes, the Mayor of London may have popped up some snazzy posters up detailing sexual harassment on Tubes earlier this year, but it doesn’t stop the fact that CCTV on the London Underground is apparently only kept for 72 hours. Or that a 2020 YouGov report revealed that ‘most women’ have been sexually harassed on the Tube.
Sadiq Khan may have even pledged £17.7m earlier this year as part of the city’s Violence Against Women & Girls strategy to keep us safe – but where is this safety? Show me the proof and protection, because all I see and feel is fear.
It’s too little, too late. It’s not good enough, and I’ve had enough.
I’m tired of holding my breath while glittering skyscrapers tower above me and a man walks behind me; of feeling like a second-class citizen for being a woman, praying to a god – any god – that I make it home alive.
This city has given me too many sleepless nights, so I’ve been left with no other option but to leave. I’m moving to Edinburgh.
I’m tired of being grateful to escape another day with my life; a perverse gratitude that leaves my mental health in tatters. This city has failed – and is continuing to fail – women, and I no longer want to be a part of it.
The relief I feel at only having a few weeks left to suffer is insurmountable.
A man may never grow tired of London, but a woman does.
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