Susan Hawthorne

She asks him,
How do you protect yourself from rape?
He is silent for a long time.
He says,
I avoid going to prison.

She asks him again,
Do you want to know what I have done or have avoided doing?
He is silent again.
Then a nod.

She says,
I don’t talk to strangers.
I don’t go out alone at night.
Or if I do I have my keys at the ready.
I have my running shoes on.
I look as if I know where I’m going even when I don’t.

If I do go out at night, I listen.
I listen for the footsteps behind me.
I judge their heaviness, their gait.
I consider whether the footstepper is female or male.
I try not to run.
I look casual.
Or, I turn and look him in the eye.
The advice is contradictory.
I take self-defence classes.
I become a black belt.

And still I don’t feel safe.
If I stay home, I lock all the doors.
I lock the windows too.
I have a fisheye lens in the front door of my flat.
When I go out with friends, I don’t drink too much.
I don’t leave a half empty / half full glass to come back to.
I don’t accept a lift home.
I catch a taxi instead.
I have a sensor light outside my house.
My dog is just the other side of the door.
I don’t allow anyone to take my photograph.

Have I been successful?
Once, I drank too much.
Once, I accepted a lift.
Once, I talked with someone I knew.

And among my friends
One was married to a rapist.
One found out the man beside her was raping her daughters.
One was touched all over by the man next door when she was five.
One was followed on the street.
One found pornography on her lover’s computer.

I asked them what they did to protect themselves from rape.

One said: I don’t talk to strangers.
I don’t go out alone at night.
I set my mobile phone to speed dial.
I have my running shoes on.