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YourGround: New study allows Melbourne women to plot unsafe streets, parks

A major new map shows where Victorian women feel most unsafe on the streets, including one terrifying incident.

A new study has allowed Victorian women to plot the locations and streets where they feel most unsafe.

The crowdsourced survey by Monash University’s XYX Lab and digital consultancy CrowdSpot received more than 6000 public submissions from women and gender-diverse in just a three-month period between April and July 2021.

Women and gender-diverse people were able to detail their experiences – positive and negative – at locations across the state and give them an “unsafe” rating out of five.

Among some of the unsafe experiences provided was a woman on the Maribyrnong River Trail who said she felt “uncomfortable running early morning or in the evening as the lighting is shocking”.

“Really well looked after trail but missing this key safety feature. I have to change when I run to ensure there is daylight,” she said.

Another woman in her early 30s said she was followed down Victoria St in Melbourne by a man for about 300 metres before he started screaming at her when she crossed the road and ran away.

“I was verbally abused by an older man,” a woman in her late 20s at Queen Victoria Market tram stop said. “He also kept asking if I had a boyfriend and called me fat.”

Another woman said she had experienced cars slowing down to honk or yell at her while she was exercising alone near Bridge Rd in Richmond.

“(It) is one of very few lit and populated E-W direct passages in the area and it’s stressful that even this is spoiled by men as a safe exercise option,” she said.

Researchers said the data uncovered important factors in community spaces that make women and gender-diverse people feel vulnerable, such as lighting, concerning behaviour from other people in the area, as well as the identity of the person experiencing them.

XYX Labs co-director Nicole Kalms said often the stress and anxiety around safety when exercising in public spaces could act against the health benefits and restrict access for women and gender-diverse people.

“Gender inequality in our society is an overarching factor impacting on the safety of women and gender-diverse people, and as a result they experience public places differently from men,” she said.

“Safety in public spaces is complex. We do not all experience public space the same way.

“An individual’s experiences of such spaces are shaped by their identity – not just their gender but also age, ethnicity, religion, economic status, as well as personal experiences and those of friends and family.”

Dr Kalms said the YourGround Victoria report highlighted the need for nuanced strategies when it came to designing and managing public spaces so that women and gender-diverse people could feel free and safe to use their local environments.

Key findings from the report show that 92 per cent of all pins placed in street locations were deemed unsafe.

Parks and other green spaces, such as trails and beaches, were identified as major locations

for exercise and leisure and all were considered safer places to do so than streets.

Poor lighting, both underlit and overlit, was the main reason for a place to be deemed unsafe, especially for those running, cycling, playing team sports and walking the dog.

The survey found walking the dog improved a person’s sense of security.

YourGround is in discussions with potential government partners to role the study out in other states and territories for 2022.

Victorian Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the report would inform and support ongoing efforts to improve access for all communities to quality open space.

“It has never been more important for Victorians to have equitable access to their local public spaces,” she said.

Originally published as YourGround: New study allows Melbourne women to plot unsafe streets, parks

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