MAJA JANOWSKA: RECLAIMING OUR STREETS

Maja Janowska, photographer, journalist and model, talks about the nightly terror of simply getting the bus to work.

Walking to the bus stop at 10pm on a Saturday night. Earphones in, but music isn’t playing, just in case I won’t be able to hear someone creeping up behind me. Turning my head every five minutes and speeding up as soon as I sense a silhouette coming up behind, just in case. The constant fear continues as I arrive at the bus stop, exactly two minutes before my bus is due. I don’t want to wait there longer than necessary. It’s not lit very well and all the shops are already closed. I sit down and hold a phone in my hand, with my recent call page up so I can call someone quickly, just in case.

This is my journey to the bus stop, every weekend to work. Exactly the same, it’s a routine I have developed to keep myself safe on the streets at night.

I thought this routine was perfect, but a man put it to test a couple of weeks ago. It was my first day back at work after two months off due to ill mental health, so as an extra pick me up I wore my “Bitches Unite” t-shirt. I was feeling extra powerful.

As I stood at the bus stop a man from across the street started shouting at me. I thought he was harmless because he looked pretty drunk, so I just ignored it and pretended I couldn’t hear him, you know, my earphones trick!

“Don’t pretend you can’t hear me! I know you want some of that” I wish I hadn’t turned my head at that point. I still regret it. There he was, with his trousers down, still shouting at me. Yes, it’s exactly what you’re thinking; the man across the street, previously deemed harmless was a flasher.

I was terrified and now sure of his intentions. I tried calling my boyfriend a hundred times but the signal was terrible and I didn’t get through.

My routine was failing.

I started to panic, thinking of another plan of action. Should I run away like I had done the last time a man followed me, or look for a police officer as I had before – I’ve been followed around more than once. Or, it occurred to me, maybe I should just ignore him and pretend I couldn’t see him. I’m used to ignoring men who shout at me but this was a little more scary than usual. I even considered shouting at the guy – I did that once before when a passing man spanked my butt as he passed me with a group of friends. They found it very amusing that their friend had touched me – I didn’t.

In this whole situation I almost didn’t notice the bus arriving. Shaken up, I thanked the bus driver for arriving on time. He just looked at me funny, obviously he didn’t have a clue that he had saved me from whatever this man was about to do next.

This is not an isolated event. This is happening now, to women around the world. Going back from work, to work, from a party, shopping trip, late lecture. All the time. It’s not the first and not the last time it’s going to happen to me, but we can unite and work against it together.

I continue to walk to the bus stop every weekend, following the same routine. I walk to a taxi rank five minutes away from work when I come home much later and spend £8 on a taxi home to avoid potentially getting raped. I live in a constant fear of someone taking advantage of me just because I am female.

I am writing about it because I’m sick of having to look behind me with every step I take at night, I’m sick of being casually, sexually assaulted in the streets. I am fed up of having to pay for taxis because it is not safe for me to walk home from work. We need to be Damn Rebel Bitches, and we need to unite against it and speak up! There is no place in the modern world for this oppression and if we speak about it now, optimistically, maybe things will change and our daughters will be safe to walk the streets of our cities at night.