Image sourced from Strut Safe Twitter https://twitter.com/strutsafe?lang=en
Amidst public conversations around gendered safety in light of the Nicola Bulley case, GENDER.ED asked a broader question: how do we build feminist cities? We had a special transnational conversation inviting two groups to share their ground-breaking work on gendered safety. In this blog-post, we recognise the trailblazing efforts of one of those groups—Strut Safe—a UK-wide helpline that was founded in the wake of Sarah Everard’s death in March 2021.
Strut Safe exists for people travelling alone, taking calls from anyone who needs it until they get to their destination. The service operates through a group of around 30 volunteer call handlers who are given training in-house to be a reassuring presence for people using the helpline.
When it was first founded last year, Strut Safe operated its services on foot in Edinburgh. Volunteers met people in person who needed walking to their destination safely. However, early on, founders realised that there was a huge and growing demand across the rest of the UK that meant there was no reason to limit the service to just Edinburgh; calls became more regular from other places, particularly London. In response, Strut Safe began to prioritise recruitment for call handlers who could offer support and encouragement from anywhere, to anyone, across the UK. Now, it is a phone service only, operating three nights a week, on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, from 7pm to the early morning.
For this blog post Levi, the Director of Strut Safe, spoke to our former Communication and Events Intern, Lauren Galligan, about the organisation and its role in fighting gender-based violence.
Why do you think that Strut Safe is a needed service in the world today, and what role do initiatives like this one have in fighting gender-based violence?
The past few years have proven more back-breaking for a huge number of people, as the impacts of austerity worsened and institutions chose bureaucracy over people’s health and safety. I think Strut Safe is sadly needed for a couple of key reasons: the need for effective and non-judgemental safeguarding, the greater benefits of community focused and organised work, and ineffective forms of ‘criminal justice’.
What people have tended to say to me at the end of our call, once they get their keys in the door and walk through the threshold, is how much of a difference it made for them to feel comfortable and at ease on their way back. We emphasise in our call handler training that their role is to support people’s autonomy and offer kindness and reassurance in doing so. We don’t judge people on where they’ve been or what they’ve been doing—we are simply there to listen and care for them. By doing this we are focusing on the communities of people we seek to help. By using a broad variety of skills gained from many different walks of life, we are creating an organisation that reflects who it serves.
We are incredibly mindful of how best to approach the idea of policing and criminal justice in relation to cases of gender-based violence. Countless statistics across the globe demonstrate how ineffective our patriarchal and wealth-driven legal system is in charging abusers and rapists. Innumerable people have felt judged, mistreated, ignored, and abused by the police they’ve turned to for help— and for countless people institutional transphobia, ableism, and racism severely impacts their experiences and likelihood of being helped.
I think our role in fighting gender-based violence is to be preventative by prioritising those likely to be affected, as opposed to looking to enforce abusive policing. People can feel less afraid of simply walking back to their flat after work, or popping out to see a friend— we deserve to move with autonomy.
The response to Strut Safe since it was founded seems to have been overwhelmingly positive. Do you find that there has been much backlash, or many challenges in setting up and maintaining this initiative?
We frequently get comments about stoking fears that people shouldn’t have, ranging quite broadly from people who think more policing is the answer, to people who fully do not recognise gender-based violence as an issue so prevalent. The majority of our challenges in setting up this organisation could perhaps be attributed to the economic and political landscape of the UK: all of us had to try to maintain an overwhelming balance between Strut Safe responsibilities and having to earn a living. I found it particularly upsetting to not be able to dedicate all my time to this organisation and have to sacrifice opportunities for improvement just to be paid minimum wage and stand on my feet for hours at a time. We feel remarkably fortunate for the donations we’ve received thus far, as they’re allowing us to start making bigger decisions that benefit all our users and staff.
A real strain in trying to maintain our work is that the role of a call handler entails late hours and working remotely, and is purely voluntary. We have a remarkable team of call handlers who have gotten hundreds of people home, and our fundraising goals are to be able to pay a good living wage for their time and energy.
What action would you like to see taken by those in policy-making roles to tackle gender-based violence in the future, and what does the future hold for Strut Safe itself?
I would like to see actions taken that centre the needs of those affected by gender-based violence, as opposed to suggesting how they themselves should try to avoid it, or interrogating them in the wake of traumatic events. I believe we all have a responsibility to care for one another, and in policy-making there all too often seems to be little in the way of follow through or direct action: things seem to become buried in paperwork. I think our priorities should be informed by those most knowledgeable in the field of trauma and mental health support, as opposed to the instinct to seek punishment.
On a smaller scale, there are numerous straightforward actions that can be taken by governments and councils to tackle gender-based violence. One key issue we’ve come across from our callers is that so many places suffer from a lack of street lighting – many people might only stay on a call with us until they’re through a dark tunnel, though many explain that they’re walking the long way round to avoid a dark street. Recently, Scotrail got rid of a number of their late trains between Edinburgh and Glasgow, leaving countless people who work in hospitality and have late night shifts in a more vulnerable place when trying to get home. There are countless small but impactful ways in which public safety and wellbeing can be prioritised and improved, where people are valued more than profits.
Strut Safe is open:
Friday 7pm – 3am
Saturday 7pm – 3am
Sunday 7pm – 1am
0333 335 0026
Information about volunteering and donations can be found on our social media or on our website www.strutsafe.org