A Native American writer’s viral tweet illustrates just how much mental energy women devote every single day to thinking about how to ward off sexual assaults.
Kaitlin Curtice is a Potawatomi author, speaker, and Christian mystic from Atlanta, Georgia. Like many others across the U.S., she tuned in last Thursday to listen to professor Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful testimony accusing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they both were teenagers (a charge he vehemently denies).
The hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee compelled thousands of women to share their own experiences concerning sexual assault and living with the threat of it.
For Curtice, Blasey’s testimony rekindled memories of the many times in her life she has felt unsafe while doing ordinary tasks. She thought about how, while walking to her car in a dark parking lot, she puts her keys between her fingers and keeps her phone out ― just in case she encounters an attacker.
Curtice wondered if she was being overly “paranoid” by taking such steps. So she posted on Twitter on Thursday, searching for women who have felt the same fear while walking alone, and have responded by taking precautions.
Curtice told HuffPost she thought she’d get about 20 to 30 retweets. Instead, dozens of women chimed in, sharing their own stories about the care they take or the plans they make in advance just to feel safer while walking alone. Curtice’s tweet quickly went viral, earning over 68,000 retweets in four days.
“I realized that I’m not paranoid,” Curtice told HuffPost. “I’m just a woman in America. This is our everyday reality, and many, many women made that clear.”
Relatively few instances of sexual violence are committed by someone who is a complete stranger to the victim, according to RAINN, a national anti-sexual violence organization. Most sexual assault perpetrators know their victims in some way.
Still, the outpouring of responses to the tweet showed Curtice that something needs to change.
″If this many of us are signaling that we feel this unsafe every single day, we have a problem with the way America has institutionally signaled to women that we do not matter as much as men matter, and that men hold the power,” she said.
The responses on Twitter made it clear that the fear of sexual assault is an omnipresent reality that complicates even the most mundane, everyday situations.
Even though the onus shouldn’t be on women to prevent being sexually assaulted, some reacted to Curtice’s tweet by sharing what they do when the possibility of it makes them feel unsafe.
Some said that they don’t just pretend to be on their phones while walking alone― they actually call friends or family and keep them on the line until they feel safe again. Others talked about checking the back seat of their cars before getting in and locking the doors immediately.
Women spoke up about paying extremely close attention to their surroundings and using whatever they had on hand to potentially scare off would-be attackers ― purses, water bottles, keys. Others planned disguises in advance.
Some women spoke about how these safety tactics are passed on from generation to generation, from mother to daughter.
Some shared stories of meeting women who tried to lend a hand to assuage fears, even though they were strangers.
Some men responded to Curtice’s tweet by pledging to support and believe women who come forward with stories of sexual assault. Others pushed back — arguing that men also feel wary while walking alone at night.
While Curtice acknowledged that there are definitely some spaces where men may feel unsafe, she said her tweet was directed at elevating women’s voices.
She also said she hopes the tweet encourages men to listen to women’s experiences.
“I hope it encourages men to examine the ways in which they make women feel unsafe, or the ways in which they shame women, often without realizing it, for taking these kinds of precautions to simply stay safe in America,” she said.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.