Editor's note: Trigger warning — The following story mentions rape and similar themes. For immediate assistance, call ASU's 24-hour crisis line at 480-921-1006.
She and her friends wanted ice cream late at night, but she was scared of getting harassed during the walk to CVS. So she threw on a hoodie and drew a fake beard on her face.
Ryann B., a freshman studying psychology, came up with a creative way to feel safer when she walked alone one night to get ice cream for her friends: she dressed up "as a guy."
She said she always carries pepper spray and a taser with her when she walks alone, but, as a young female college student, she still doesn’t feel safe. She shared her problem-solving idea on Wildfire, which is a social networking app and local alert service with a section specifically for ASU students.
“Even if something would've happened I would've probably been OK because I had those two things — I just didn't want anyone to approach me in the first place,” Ryann B. said.
Ryann B. said she felt safer because of her altered appearance, and she would do it again.
“It's really easy,” she said. “It made me feel a little bit more safe even though it was kind of stupid — and I did have a lot of fun with it too."
She and her roommates had a good time dressing her up and helping her practice walking "like a guy," Ryann B. said. Despite the humor, she said there are more serious undertones when it comes to this situation, and she’s constantly scared to walk alone.
"I'm terrified always,” she said. "Even if it's just like 7:30 (p.m.) where it's just barely starting to get dark, I always check behind me. And I always keep my keys in my left pant pocket, which is what my pepper spray is attached to, and I've practiced getting it out really quickly," she said. "It's kind of like muscle memory now because I always have it in my left pocket, and I'm just always prepared to whip that out, I guess.”
Victoria Riechers, the sexual violence response coordinator at Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said she believes rape culture has an influence over how people feel when it comes to instances like this.
"Rape culture can lead to a number of jokes about sexual assault or sexual objectification," Riechers said. "It could also cause victim-blaming when we blame the victim for what happened to them ... Something that happens with rape culture is that people are questioned about what they were wearing, and so people might feel like they need to change what they're wearing to feel safe."
Reichers said it's not an uncommon feeling for people to feel unsafe when walking by themselves.
"Folks might feel unsafe to walk around by themselves at night or just generally during the day," she said. "And people feel like they might need to always be looking out, especially because as a culture we tend to blame that person if something does happen to them."
To help prevent assaults, Reichers said, it's important to be a helpful bystander by checking in with someone if they look to be in a vulnerable position.
"I think rather than focusing on when students feel unsafe, I think we need to think of it more as a big picture kind of cultural shift," she said. "Rather than focusing on what someone should do if they feel unsafe, because that could feel like maybe it's their fault if something does happen — and we don't want to blame anyone for anything that happens to them."
Ryann B. said this is the unfortunate reality for women, but she feels ASU does its best at trying to keep students safe.
"I don't think that girls should have to feel like this when they want to walk two blocks down and get some ice cream,” she said. “I think ASU is doing everything they can, and I applaud them for that. But I mean it's just how it is, I guess, not just here but everywhere.”
Overall, Ryann B. said she had fun with the idea and had a good time with her friends, while also trying to feel safer.
“It was totally just a huge joke basically," she said. "I mean it was mostly something fun to us. Obviously, there's that more serious undertone of, ‘Oh I don't feel safe going out at night.’ But we had a whole bunch fun with it.”
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 5:00 p.m. on Jan. 27, 2020, to delete an embedded post to protect the privacy and identity of the source involved.