Once upon a time, until I was in my mid-20s, I sat in the front passenger seat of taxis, chatting away freely to the driver about his day and mine.
That stopped abruptly late one night, on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, when the middle-aged driver lent across and placed his hand on my inside thigh.
Before that, I knew perfectly how such a tricky situation should be handled. I’d remove his hand immediately. I’d demand he stop.
Take down his licence number. Get out of the car. I’d wind the window down and scream blue murder, if that was required.
I’d know what to do. On paper.
On this night, I did none of those things. None. I froze.
I didn’t even remove his hand.
New to Sydney, I remember thinking I should have studied what roads led to Lane Cove and what ones didn’t. And mostly, I remember thinking that I couldn’t afford to annoy the man stroking my thigh.
My heart pounded as his hand wandered, and when he pulled up outside my house, I ran to the front door, not for a moment glancing behind to see if he followed, or sped off.
It seems a lifetime ago now and I don’t even remember the tiny details, but my flatmate and I argued over whether I should call the taxi company and lodge a complaint.
I didn’t want to because he knew where I lived. He’d dropped me home.
She won eventually, dialled the number and handed me the phone, where I asked to speak to the on-duty taxi company supervisor.
He asked me where I had caught the taxi, whether it had been booked, and where I had been dropped off.
And then he said this: “He will never work again for this company. And he will never know why.’’ He sounded the age of my own father.
A couple of decades later, I don’t know the motivations of the driver.
He was absolutely out of line. But the fear that took over transported me to see it as an imminent attack.
I’m not alone.
Each morning, before the sun rises, you see stacks of men out running. My female friends always wait until it’s light. Just in case.
Walking 300 metres to a car, late at night, prompts many of us to call someone we know, for a chat. Just in case.
At home, we’re more likely to lock up. Check the alarm is on when we leave home. And have our key ready, as we walk up the front steps to unlock the door. Just in case.
We scan parking lots to choose a bay that’s in a public position. We make sure someone is around when we lock up the store, and we wait outside the front door as our children finish their Thursday night shift at McDonald’s.
Just in case.
Just in case what? I don’t know what the chances are of being attacked walking to your car at night – but they’re not high.
And perhaps they are no higher for a female than a male.
But the fear is real; the fear that a normal activity – like an early morning run, or taking the garbage out at 11pm – requires being alert.
Just in case.
Most men find this perplexing. But why they ask? Just in case.
Perhaps it’s a society that’s allowed fear to flourish for women. Perhaps we need to work harder to reclaim the night. Perhaps we need to teach our daughters not to live scared.
But headline after headline tells us otherwise; that danger often disguises itself in the normal.
Jane Rimmer, 23, didn’t expect the danger that lurked outside Clermont’s Continental Hotel in June 1996.
Ciara Glennon, 27, didn’t expect that same danger in March the following year, outside the same hotel.
Former Telstra technician Bradley Robert Edwards might have looked normal. But today there’s proof that sometimes normal hides unimaginable evil.