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I am a student at UMass Amherst and am now 21. I have been accosted on this street several times. This is pretty shocking considering how open minded, feminist, and family friendly this town is and considering the fact that this is the town center, where the town feels the safest. I have a few stories from the past couple years and thought I would share them in one post rather than a few.
I also want to point out that while some of these stories are about homeless men harassing me, this is not representative of most homeless men and women in this area. I have had friendly and respectful exchanges with people who are homeless in Amherst and the stories following are about the few who, despite their situation, were incredibly disrespectful to me as a woman and made me feel unsafe. This is not due to their circumstances. This is due to their behavior.
The first of these stories is from a few years ago. I was a freshman and on a bus to visit home. We stopped in Amherst Center and a man got on the bus and sat beside me. He smelled pretty terrible, but I didn’t want to be rude so I just breathed through my mouth and tried to be polite. I don’t know if he was homeless or what, but I figured he wasn’t dangerous, that I was safe in the front seat of a bus. He had some food with him (the smell of it wafted to me, it wasn’t my taste) and offered me some. I smiled and politely declined but thanked him for offering. A couple minutes later, I felt his hand snaking its way between my legs and up my thigh. I immediately tensed up and said (pretty loudly) “WHAT are you doing?” He stopped, took his hand back and got off at the next stop.
The second was a year later in my sophomore year. It was on Halloween night and I was on a date with a girl I liked. Some pretty hilarious things happened earlier in the night with guys yelling after me (in a harmless and nonsexual way) since I was dressed as Wonder Woman and running to catch a bus with my cape billowing out behind me. Some cars literally stopped and I heard things like, “GREAT SCOTT! IT’S WONDER WOMAN!” To which I would start laughing hysterically. The girl I was out with was dressed as Catwoman. We were holding hands near the end of the night and walking down the street toward her place. The streets were packed with drunk and happy college students as well as sober and serious (but slightly entertained) police officers keeping things safe. We were hand in hand and I was wary of those around us. Suddenly, a guy ran up beside us and matched our pace.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi.” my date said.
“What are you girls up to?”
“Just walking” my date said and stared straight ahead.
“I like your costumes. I’m going to a thing in Central. Is that where you live? Central?”
We didn’t respond.
“Well, it’s a party. I mean, it should be fun. Do you two wanna come with me?”
“No thanks,” my date said, “I’m with her.”
“Ok, cool cool. So, what are you two gonna be up to? I’m (forgot the name) by the way. So, what are you two gonna be doing?”
By this point, we were trying to outwalk him.
“Just hanging out.” my date replied, walking faster.
He ran to keep up with us.
“You guys walk fast! So what building are you going to? In Central, right?” he said, losing his breath.
“We walk fast when we’re being bothered by someone and want to lose them.” one of us said (I can’t remember who).
The guy slowed down, saying, “What? but. Oh.”
I think he said something else, I don’t remember, but it freaked us both out a bit.
The third was on the same street. It was about one in the morning. the street was almost empty, it was a weekend, and it was very well lit. I was made-up and walking back from a party for the LGBT group on campus. Three guys walked behind me, about my age. They were talking among themselves, but I immediately became wary of their presence, seeing as there was almost no one else on the street. I was walking quickly with my head up, and did not face them once during the following encounter. I was very clearly trying to keep to myself. One of the guys ran up to me (Not cool to do that to a woman who is walking alone in the middle of the night).
“Hey” he said.
I didn’t reply or look at him. I kept walking and he matched my speed. He tried a few more times to grab my attention. I ignored him some more until he straight up asked me if I was angry.
“Yes.” I replied.
“Why?” he asked.
At this point, I was very nervous about the fact that there was one strange man next to me and two flanking me from behind on an empty street at one in the morning.
“I’m angry because I’m being bothered by someone when I just want to get back to my room.” I said, still not looking at him.
“I didn’t mean to bother you, I just think you’re very attractive and wanted to meet you.” he said in the most friendly tone he could manage.
“Great. I’m flattered, but I just want to walk alone. And frankly, I’m a little creeped out.”
“Because a man I don’t know is bothering me in the middle of the night when I’m walking alone. That’s why.”
“Oh! You don’t have to be nervous with me, I’m an RA, you can trust me.”
“Yeah, ok, just leave me alone. I’m not interested. I’m coming back from an lgbt dance. I’m not into guys. Sorry.”
” Oh yeah, that’s fine. I’m an RA, so I have residents who are gay or trans. I’m totally cool with it. Where are you headed?”
I didn’t respond.
“We’re headed up the hill to my apartment. Are you headed to Puffton?”
I stayed silent and kept walking.
“Sylvan? Do you live in Sylvan? That’s on our way, you know.”
I stayed quiet and walked faster.
“Hey! Where are you goi–”
I interrupted him and yelled, “Leave me the F**K alone.”
He put his hands up and backed off.
He went up the hill that I was supposed to go up. I had to take the long way to avoid him and his friends. Easily the scariest encounter.
The last was during the day. I was walking down the street and saw a man with a can out to collect change. I grabbed some change I had left and dropped it in and smiled at him. Most people in Amherst know or at least recognize the homeless men and women in town, so I wanted to be friendly. He leaned toward me and said something to the effect of, “What would I have to do for a date?” I rolled my eyes, made a grossed out face, said, “Gross” and walked off.
These things happened on North Pleasant Street, which goes through Amherst Center and into the UMass campus. It is normally pretty crowded with college, high school, middle school, and elementary school students as well as several local families. These incidents made me feel incredibly unsafe in this otherwise very friendly and small community. No one stepped in during any of these encounters. I was even driving down this street recently when I stopped at a light and a PVTA bus pulled up next to me. I looked up at the driver, I kind looking grey haired man, and smiled politely. He smirked and winked at me in a surprisingly sleazy way. I made a disgusted expression and he smiled wider, staring at me until the light changed. That still makes me really angry.
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