Women rarely feel safe wherever they go, especially when night-time comes. All over the world, females are the number one target for acts of violence, and the number of victims only seems to get higher every year.
It was at a vigil for Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old UK woman who was abducted, raped, and murdered by a police officer, that Alice Jackson, 22, and Rachel Chung, 28, decided to take matters into their own hands.
The Edinburgh University students created Strut Safe, a telephone company that people can call if they’re walking home alone at night.
“I felt so enraged and helpless,” said Rachel. “I had become so tired of feeling like this, and like I couldn’t go to the police for help.”
At the vigil, Rachel held a bullhorn and promised to walk anyone home that night if they felt unsafe. Initially, they thought that would be the service—she and Alice would walk people home across Edinburgh meadows. However, they quickly realized there was a greater need.
“So we bought a cheap phone from Tesco and started a hotline, and the response got very big very quickly. It just seemed like the thing that we could do in that moment that could make an immediate difference,” Rachel said.
Since then, the telephone helpline Strut Safe has been taking calls every weekend. To date, they have amassed over 76,000 followers on Instagram. They have a team of interviewed, trained, and background-checked volunteers across the country who answer hundreds of calls every night.
Strut Safe also offers a walking service in Edinburgh, but their phone service is more in demand.
Typically, their callers aren’t in an emergency situation. It’s mostly people walking home alone from work or from a night out with friends.
“People might say ‘I only need you for two minutes, I’m just walking through a park or down an alley.’ We’ll talk about gossip from their night, or their degree – once I was chatting to someone about what she should get her mum for Christmas. It’s like being a professional friend,” Alice explained.
However, it’s not all lighthearted.
“We do also get calls that are quite chilling,” she added. “Someone might be in real emotional distress and you’re trying to coach them through it. We often get people saying ‘I’m walking home and I think someone is following me’, or ‘I’ve just been catcalled and I’m scared.’”
For that, they have trained dispatchers ready to notify the police or call an ambulance if needed.
After news of high-profile killings of two women in London outraged the entire nation last year, the hotline saw a huge spike in calls as their number was shared across social media.
Rachel said the telephone helpline gets a high volume of calls from big cities like London, where crime is more rampant.
“Especially since the Night Tube hasn’t been running for so long and cabs are so expensive in London, women often have no choice but to walk home alone,” she said.
The majority of callers are cisgender women, but Alice and Rachel emphasize that the line is open to anyone.
Currently, the telephone helpline runs on Friday and Saturday nights from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. and Sunday nights between 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. The founders hope to expand the service to operate every night, but they also hope that the day would come when it wouldn’t be needed at all.
“It’s a difficult tightrope to walk,” said Rachel. “In the best case scenario, some day Alice and I would be out of a job, and Strut Safe would be obsolete.”
You can support Strut Safe by making a donation here. Any amount you contribute will help keep this much-needed service running.
So far this service is available in UK. Hopefully other countries will follow. Strut Safe‘s free helpline 0333 335 0026 operates from 7pm-3am on Fridays and Saturdays, and 7pm-1am on Sundays