Do you feel safe in Auckland at night?

20:56, Jun 26 2012

How safe do you feel at night in Auckland?

Maybe it comes from seeing too many police press releases and court charge sheets and murder scenes (not to mention CSI), but I am a total fraidy cat. I won't walk to the dairy alone at night, and I fret when I know my husband is walking home from the bus stop late on a Saturday night. I only run in daylight, and when I run through the bush gully near our house I turn my iPod right down, and look behind me a lot.

On the one hand I feel it's better to be safe than sorry. On the other, two incidents recently have made me wonder whether I'm paranoid.

The other night I was driving home from the gym, stopped at an intersection, and looked in my rear view mirror. Right behind me, sitting there silently in the back seat, was a man wearing an orange helmet. All I could see was his mouth, and his mouth was smirking.

My first thought was that awful urban legend about the killer in the back seat. Immediately, I started scanning for burly, helpful-looking passers-by (there were none). I considered leaping out of my car in the middle of the road and screaming, but worried no-one would come, and that the killer would just kill me quicker to shut me up.  

My second thought was, hang on, if he's sitting in the back seat how come I can still SEE the back seat? Of course, the guy was actually not in my car. He was on a motorbike stopped behind my car, and it just so happened that in my mirror he appeared to be sitting right behind me in a creepy, killer-like way.

My second scare happened in town. I work in a heritage building just off K Road and usually arrive right on dawn. To get from the road to the office door I have to walk through a courtyard that is full of dark corners and shady places, and not visible from the road. I walk fast, I won't walk through it if there's anyone scary-looking around, and I make sure I have my swipe card in my hand, to avoid having to scrabble around in my handbag at the door.

A few weeks ago I was leaving work at sunset and heard footsteps very close behind me. They moved when I moved, took the stairs that I took. Before we got to the most secluded section of the courtyard I turned around. There was a young man behind me, he stopped when I stopped and gave me a kind of 'what's up' head tilt thing. I scowled and kept walking, fast. Footsteps behind me again. This time I whirled around and said, in a stroppy no-nonsense sort of voice, "WHAT?"

He raised both hands in a placating ssshing gesture, like I was nuts, and said, 'Omigod, I'm not FOLLOWING you.' He really wasn't, either. He was there to buy drugs, and was looking for some guy who'd told him to meet there.

I felt awful. That poor guy. As a small, non-scary-looking woman, I can't imagine what it's like to be a man, and for that to cause strangers to treat you like a potential rapist/murderer. But at the same time, maybe men can't understand what it's like to be a small, non-scary-looking woman, alone in the dark.

How careful are you when you're alone at night? Have you had any frights, and have they made you more - or less - scared of the dark? On the other hand, have you ever unintentionally given someone else a genuine scare?

» Catherine Woulfe is the deputy editor of Sunday magazine.

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