The Women’s Safety Audit is a tool developed by the Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC) in 1989. The goal of the Women’s Safety Audit is to have community members collect data on urban environments based on a variety of indicators including lighting, visibility, accessibility, and social usage of the space. These results are then compiled and submitted to local authority figures in the hopes of having the changes implemented. The Women’s Safety Audit is unique in that it takes a gendered, and intersectional approach to auditing a public space, through the inclusion of a diversity of participants and the consideration of how identity might impact an individual’s experience in the space. For example, it recognizes that gender, sexuality, race, class, and (dis)ability impact each individual’s experience with their environment. Therefore, even though the official method is called the “Women’s Safety Audit” it does not mean that the audit is only meant for women, nor will women be the only beneficiaries of the audit.
One assumption when using the Women’s Safety Audit to assess the environment is that all environments have two basic dimensions: the social and the physical. In order to asses the social environment we must ask ourselves questions about its various dimensions: What is the gendered balance of a space — are there more men or women in the room? How does an individual perceive the environment (i.e. Do they feel unsafe? Do they feel included? Why?)? The physical environment includes issues such as lighting, signage, and physical accessibility. Importantly, these two dimensions of an environment are heavily interconnected. This can be seen, for example, in how bad lighting (physical environment) might make an individual feel unsafe (social environment), or how the lack of accessibility to a space due to construction (physical environment) might limit the access of someone with a physical disability (social environment). Furthermore, a lack of people using a space (social environment), might lead to its degradation as there is less incentive for it to be maintained (physical environment). Another underlying assumption is that safety and unsafety exist along a spectrum. Therefore, the audit is meant to be done in places where you feel both safe and unsafe. Safety is a complex issue, as it is both a feeling and reality. Therefore, the spaces where you complete your safety audits should be wherever you feel can best reflect both the safe and unsafe spaces in your community, according to you and your group members.
We included a safety audit template in hopes that students and student groups will use it to effectuate progress on campus through pressuring the administration to make positive changes to the social and physical environment. Our safety audit template is super simple and effective to use. It will let you systematically analyze your physical and social environment, promoting you to consider dimensions of spaces you use in ways you might not have before.
Quick note: we do not recommend doing the audit in places that present an explicit danger to your wellbeing. While it is important to do the audits in places where one feels less safe, do not put yourself in harm's way, and always do the audit in a group!
When completing the audit, it is best if you are in a small group of 3-8 people, in order to gain the insights and perspectives of other participants, while maintaining the intimacy of a small group in order to encourage all people to share their thoughts. You can do the audit indoors, outdoors, or both. You can take as many or as few stops as you would like. The audit should ideally take 1-3 hours. When choosing a space and time length to audit, it is important to take into consideration the different needs of the people in your group (i.e. does anyone have any physical disabilities that might limit their capacity to move through specific environments? What are the ages of those participating? Might their age make them tire sooner than others?). The audit should start with a small introduction from whoever is organizing it, making sure the participants understand the basics of the method and what the intention is (it might be helpful to read some of the information from this page, or to check out METRAC’s website for more details). Then the actual audit occurs, during which you and your group will walk around a specific area, taking stops to audit a space when you see fit. The spaces you adit can be both places where you feel safe or unsafe, it is up to the group to decide. Finally, once the stops are complete, the audit will end with a debriefing session. This session should last anywhere from 20-60 minutes, and involves a group discussion where everyone goes over the perceptions, feelings, and thoughts they had during the walk.
The team that participated in the safety audits conducted as a part of McGill’s Community Engagement Day in September 2016. We conducted two safety audits on and around McGill’s downtown campus; one during the day, and one at night. For more information on this audit, check out our past projects and events page.
After printing out the checklist template and assembling your group, the first step is to fill in the basic information on the sheet (i.e. time, weather, etc.).
Table 1 allows you to list the stops you take during the audit, in order to have the basic information in one spot to keep things clear and easy for others to understand. We recommend taking pictures of the stops you take, in order to better identify it later. Sometimes it can help to print off a map of the area and mark the stops on the map as well!
Table 2 is organized by dimension of safety. These include lighting, sightlines, signage, social use of the space, access to security, visibility, and accessibility. For each stop you take, you can write in details about the dimensions you see fit in the specific boxes. You will mark the stop number in the second column, followed by comments in the 3rd column, and finally, you in the 4th column you will rate how the dimension you described of the space made you feel. You can write about a dimension of a space if you deem it to be safe or unsafe. You do not have to write about every dimension for each stop.
When you are done with the audit, you can submit the results to us (through email or in-person), and we will make sure to submit it to the appropriate administrative entity.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested in Right to Campus collaborating with you or your student group to do a safety audit!