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The Gender Safety Gap

I grew up and currently live in post-9/11 New York City. I don’t remember what the city was like before the attacks. I will never remember a city in which it wasn’t standard to see assault rifles in train stations. My New York has been filled with annual moments of silence to commemorate the loudest sound I’ve ever heard. My New York will always have ads plastered up with the words “See Something, Say Something” to remind its inhabitants of the imminent danger they face every day.  I grew up watching the construction of  Freedom Tower — a reminder that the city could rebound even after an immense tragedy.

I remember that day. Evidence of the tragedy exists in both my mind and in the Lower Manhattan neighborhood in which I have grown up.  Evidence like my fear of loud noises and the knowledge that my city could be under attack, yet again, at any moment. I will always feel my chest constrict when I see planes flying low over my beloved skyline.

On September 17th, a bomb went off in Chelsea. Though no one was killed, the incident sent waves of trauma throughout the city. Though I didn’t hear about the explosion until an hour after it had happened, my mind raced with panicked thoughts. My friend was about to get on the 2 train, which travels underneath the sight of the bombing. My heart beat loudly in my ears. We were all afraid. I frantically texted everyone I knew who could have been in the area and prayed that they were all safe.

Fortunately, no one I knew was injured by the blast. In the days that followed, my phone constantly chimed with news alerts updating me about the investigation of my city’s attacker. The fear of another bomb wore down the city in a way that I hadn’t felt in a while. The city felt on guard; disconnected from its usual routine. But the city also has an odd way of making its inhabitants feel connected in the wake of fear. Most notably, on Monday, September 19th, I received a number of texts from people who loved and cared for me, begging me to stay safe on my walk to school, as I walk to and from school every single day.

The thing is, as a girl in New York, safety always is and always has been on my mind. I constantly have to change my route to school to avoid catcalls at new construction sites. When it’s dark, I walk with my keys between my fingers in case someone jumps out at me. I have learned how to avoid eye contact with the man on the train who keeps grabbing his crotch and staring at me. I have learned how to pretend I am confident enough to yell back at the men who yell obscenities at me. I have been learning how to avoid assault since I was 11, when I was catcalled for the first time.

1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted in the United States. This is the dangerous reality all of the women in this country face. We cannot go to parties, go to school, go to work, or simply walk down the street without this fear. We have learned to accept this horrifying reality as a quotidian aspect of the female existence. I am more afraid of being assaulted by a stranger on the street (or someone that I know) than I am of the slight threat posed to my safety by the potential bomb threats to New York.

This experience should not be accepted. It should be treated with the same kind of attention given to the lack of safety people feel in the wake of threats like the one in September. And yet it’s not. Sexual assault inarguably plagues New York more than impending terror attacks, but people only seem to take the time to recognize and take seriously the latter. It's clearly time to reevaluate the way we think about these issues — specifically, the way we think about making this country safe for everyone in every way.



More articles by Category: Feminism, Gender-based violence, Violence against women
More articles by Tag: Activism and advocacy, Sexualized violence, Sexual harassment, Civil rights
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Lauren D
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