One in two Australian women don't feel safe walking alone at night

New research has found that women aged between 15 and 19 are more concerned about walking home alone after dark than their male peers.

New research has found young Australian women are more stressed, more worried about study, have greater body issues and are more concerned about personal safety than men the same age.

The Mission Australia Gender Gaps 2018 Youth Survey found that 46.6 per cent of women aged between 15 and 19-years-old felt "unsafe" or "very unsafe" when walking alone in their community after dark. When it came to men, however, only 18.1 per cent reported the feeling the same

Twenty-year-old Tiana Sixsmith only lives a five-minute walk from her local train station but said even though it was a short walk, she didn't feel safe.

"I think it's just that constant feeling that I don't feel safe," she said.

"There's been a lot of things like assaults and even murder ... that have been in the headlines. A lot of our friends have started talking about it and we've started to realise we all have that same fear."

Earlier this year, 21-year-old international student Aya Maasarwe was killed while walking home from a tram stop in Northern Melbourne. In 2018, 22-year-old Eurydice Dixon was murdered in similar circumstances - walking home through a Melbourne park after a comedy show. 

But the gender differences didn't end with walking alone at night. More than 70 per cent of young men said they felt comfortable using public spaces, while 63.1 per cent of women did. Similarly, 42.1 per cent of men reported trusting people in their local area, compared to 35 per cent of women.

But Ms Sixsmith isn't surprised by these differences, recalling the differences between how her and her brothers were treated growing up.

She said her parents were extremely cautious about her going out at night and would give her lengthy instructions - "make sure you're not alone", "call an uber", "make sure you're aware of your surroundings" - that her four brothers didn't receive.

"It's kind of that constant bombardment that my brothers never got," she said.

Small things like good street lighting could go some way to helping young women feel safer.
Source: Getty

Head of Research and Evaluation at Mission Australia Dr Joann Fildes said there are small things that communities can do to help young women feel safer. 

"The majority of our communities are safe,  but how we experience it as young women is quite a hard thing to understand," she said.

"So there are simple things like good street lighting, good public transport, good policing in communities, strong communities where people are looking out for each other, where neighbours know each other and people really feel connected."

But despite the data showing that feeling unsafe was more predominantly experienced by women, Dr Fildes said it's not just a women's issue.

"While we say that these are young females who are experiencing that sense of unsafe, there were also males who were experiencing it as well," she said.

"And it's to have a balanced very gendered approach to the programs which we provide."

The report surveyed almost 30,000 thousand teenagers across the country about a number of issues,

It found that four in ten (41.5 per cent) young females experienced body image issues - compared with only one in six (15.4 per cent) men. The number of young women concerned about coping with stress (56 per cent) was also more than double the number of young men (26.2 per cent).

Women (38.5 per cent) also reported being personally concerned about mental health more than men (20.4 per cent). 

Mission Australia Chief executive James Toomey said he hopes the survey will lead to more specialised services for young Australians.

"We should not accept that young females are feeling such low levels of safety as the norm, and we need to ensure young people can thrive in their communities," he said.

"We’d like to see increased investment in place-based initiatives which help to strengthen local communities."

He added that leaders needed to listen to young women about what their concerns are before acting. 

"We must heed what they’re saying and ensure that they, and their young male peers, have adequate access to the right help when they need it."

Published 14 March 2019 at 8:32am
By Bethan Smoleniec, Maani Truu