On a cold January evening, after missing my bus on my way to class, I decide to walk through my West End neighbourhood.
At 5 p.m. it’s already dark outside, so I keep a close eye on my surroundings.
In this neighbourhood there’s no telling what could happen to me. I could be robbed, mistaken for a prostitute, kidnapped, beaten up, or looked upon as a suspect by the police because of my skin colour.
As an aboriginal woman walking alone at night, many “Johns” seem to think it’s their right to try and pick up women like me every chance they get.
It doesn’t matter what time of the day it is, what the weather is like or what I’m wearing, a car will always slow down and expect me to approach.
It is something I cannot and should not get used to.
Nevertheless it happens, and as an aboriginal woman walking in this neighbourhood, I must learn to deal with it.
I begin to walk from the Banning and Ellice bus stop.
My sense of safety is higher because I’m closer to home but this diminishes as I walk further west down Ellice.
Once I cross Arlington Street, I go into defence mode. I keep an eye out for anyone walking towards me, or behind me— including any cars that slow down.
I’m feeling OK until I walk past Chicken Delight and a man starts walking close behind me.
I quicken my pace and clutch my backpack, and hope he turns the corner or crosses the street away from me. After four blocks he’s still behind me, so I pretend to tie the laces on my boot and wait for him to pass.
The tables are turned and I follow him.
My fear isn’t completely alleviated until I see him go into a building and out of sight. I let out a huge sigh of relief as I continue my walk.
The whole time I was thinking, “Am I prepared to use my self-defence karate skills? Will anybody come to my rescue if I’m attacked? What if I am robbed— should I just let them take my bag or fight to keep it? What if they have a knife or a gun?”
Thoughts and scenarios like these go through my head every time I take a walk at night. I try to stay positive and remind myself that nothing bad will happen to me, that I just have to be aware of my surroundings and be prepared to react.
I must admit the street lighting in the area isn’t exactly the best and kind of dim in some places. Not exactly a safe scenario for residents such as myself.
Not long after, I see a man walk towards me but he keeps his head down and doesn’t make eye contact. There are not many people walking around here.
However, a couple of cars do slow down and assume I will approach. I flip them the bird and ignore their advances. I finally make it to Maryland and Ellice where the local 7-11 store is located.
The amount of people, lighting and traffic increases. My sense of safety goes back up again as I get closer to my destination.
It looks like I’ll make it to my class on time and live to walk another day.
Chantel Henderson is a single mother of one, a full-time University of Winnipeg student, board member of the Daniel McIntyre/St. Matthews Community Association and a community volunteer.
Published in Volume 67, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 12, 2012)