As winter sets in and the nights draw in, the UK can see darkness from as early as 4 pm. For many women and female-identifying people, this unfortunately indicates the end of their day, as feelings of safety and security are put on hold until daylight appears the next day.

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Especially in recent years, there has been a spotlight on women’s safety once again as the very tragic death of Sarah Everard, and Zara Aleena, just to name a few, caused a huge distrust in society, especially after dark. 

In 2022 we have also seen unreliability increase on public transport, with a number of rail strikes happening throughout the year, causing cancellations and delays. This also could see a growth in fear as women are left unable to get home in the safest way, adding time and risk to their journey home. 

Unfortunately, the distrust and overall fears aren’t going away - but there are things we can all do to help women feel safer and do our bit to make the world a safe, better place.

What can men do to make women feel safer this winter? 

  • Understand that fear and wariness are not personal; educate yourself on why women may feel unsafe walking home. 

  • Keep a distance: Picture yourself on an empty street and there’s you and one other person, you may just be a fast walker, but be conscious that approaching people suddenly or rushing towards them may frighten them. Keep your face visible, and give a verbal cue if you can. 

  • Offer to walk with someone you know. If you have a female friend who may be walking home after a night out, or from work - offer to walk her home. Women are much less likely to be targeted if they are walking with a male. 

  • Safely intervene. If you witnessed a woman being harassed or assaulted, approach her gently and offer assistance. Ask if they’re okay, see if they need to call someone, and stay with them until assistance arrives. If you’re witnessing a violent act that you don’t feel you can safely intervene take the responsibility to make your presence known and call the police straight away. 

  • Lead by example. Don’t be the man that flirts when it’s unwanted, respect the word no, and pull other people up on their bad behaviours.

Workplaces can also lead by example, by taking responsibility and care of employees’ safety by appreciating why and how their female employees may feel unsafe and implementing practices to combat this. 

We recently caught up with Emma Kay, founder of WalkSafe+, the app on a mission to make the world a safer and better place, to discuss why women are feeling especially unsafe at this time of year, and how you can do your bit to make your female colleagues and friends feel safer. 

Firstly, do you believe businesses have a responsibility to protect their employees after business hours?

Yes, we believe that employers play a big role in employee safety! Particularly in the hospitality industry or nighttime economy industries, where people are working unsociable hours and having to walk or take public transport alone in the dark. 

We wanted to better understand how people feel, so we conducted research and found that 46% of respondents think that employers should take responsibility for the safety of employees when commuting - this increases to 65% amongst Gen Z employees. Due to the cost-of-living crisis, 1 in 5 people are also altering their behaviour and taking fewer taxis and choosing to walk home. 

Personal safety is an important and urgent issue that businesses need to play their part in tackling for the welfare of their staff.

So, what can these businesses do to make employees feel safer about their journey home during the winter?

Duty of care has never been more important. Two-thirds of Gen Z respondents said they would be more attracted to a role at a company which has safety initiatives in place to protect employees commuting to and from work. 

We created our WalkSafe Personal Safety Seminars for businesses that understand their responsibility within the workplace towards their staff. So far we’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response to these courses. We provide tailor-made interactive packages either virtually or in-person and they are delivered by Senior Former Scotland Yard Detectives, covering multiple aspects of personal safety including situational awareness, spiking, and being an active bystander. 

We believe that everyone has the right to feel safe when they’re alone on our streets and the tools we provide within the course are tangible and effective in helping your staff to stay safer this winter.

Nearly 9 in 10 women don’t feel safe walking home alone at night and in the UK this fear could now set in from as early as 4 pm. Why do you think this fear exists? And what needs to be done to overcome this?

We analysed police crime data from across the UK and it showed that theft against the person, violence and sexual offences have all shown consistent increases on darker nights. In total over a four-year period, crimes against the person and possession of weapon offences are 5% higher on darker nights than on lighter nights. Forecast analysis from this data suggests that this November and December alone, there could be 400,000+ violent and sexual offences on our streets. This would be nearly 16,000 more than were recorded in the lighter months of April and May earlier this year. 

It is no surprise that nearly 9 in 10 women don’t feel safe at night when violent crimes such as these are statistically higher when it’s darker and show no signs of slowing down.

To overcome this, we can think of short-term and medium-term solutions. In the medium term, we need more police officers and community support officers on our streets. We would also benefit from improved lighting and a swift response to replacing bulbs and damaged lights. In addition, local areas should invest in robust and tested response systems supporting active monitoring of CCTV, to allow timely interventions to suspicious behaviour. In the short term - given these changes require time and resources to achieve - we can use immediate and effective solutions provided by WalkSafe. 

This includes using the WalkSafe+ app to share journeys and plan safer routes or attending a WalkSafe Personal Safety Seminar to learn how to increase personal safety.

And, how can WalkSafe+ help people feel safer this winter?

Fear is at an all-time high, our research showed that 57% of UK adults have experienced harassment or unwanted comments on the streets and, alarmingly, this increases by 15% in the winter. At WalkSafe, we believe prevention is key to staying safer! 

We can help people this winter through our WalkSafe+ app. Downloading our app is an immediate action people can take to help avoid becoming a target of crime and to stay informed of what is happening in their local community. WalkSafe+ enables users to share their journeys in real time, plan safer routes and have their last known location sent to friends and family should they fail to arrive home on time.

WalkSafe also offers Personal Safety Seminars, delivered by former Scotland Yard Detectives. These courses are designed for business and give employees a fully rounded approach to personal safety, covering all aspects in their lives across leisure, exercise, and commuting. Businesses are increasingly aware of risks to their employees as they walk to and from work, particularly during unsociable hours and managers want to ensure employees have practical advice on how to increase their personal safety and how to deal with dangers as they start to arise. These interactive seminars have been devised with advice from a former Deputy Assistant Commissioner of Police who specialised in police units tackling sexual assaults and violence against women. 

Also, the New Year will see the launch of our new platform: WalkSafe for Business. This platform enables employers to meet their duty of care needs via an easy-to-use dashboard that allows a manager to see if their team of employees have arrived home safely. It sits seamlessly on top of the WalkSafe+ app which is free for employees. Deploying solutions such as WalkSafe for Business creates a culture of safety within a business and increases engagement - improving staff recruitment and retention, especially with younger employees.

Find out more about WalkSafe here.