Feeling Unsafe in Public Places : Understanding Women’s Fears
Using both quantitative and qualitative analysis (data from the Enquête Nationale sur les Violences Envers les Femmes survey and in-depth ad hoc interviews), this article explores the relationship between women’s fears for their safety, the experience of victimization, and women’s mobility in public places –three phenomena rarely dealt with in combination. While relatively few women spontaneously say they are afraid to go out alone, study of their actual practices and the content of their discourse enables us to qualify this assessment. In fact, many women, married, living with a partner, or with little or no free time due to the sexual division of labor, do not have to deal with the question of going out alone at night. Moreover, analysis of the practices of women who go out alone at night suggests that doing so involves maintaining strong mental vigilance, a condition revealed in their many tactics for meeting what they consider the imperative of avoiding contact. Mental vigilance is particularly strong among women who have been victims of aggression. Women’s mobility does not seem hampered by having been assaulted or otherwise harassed in a public place. However, violence of any kind, even the most apparently harmless or inconsequential, limits women’s freedom of movement in that it carries with it a threat felt over and beyond the moment it occurs, and increases what many women say is their fear of being alone in public space.