Beth’s Story: We’re all in this together

It happened so fast.

It happened before I could think.

But, it happened.

It was a little thing, I guess, in the scale of street harassment.

But it was big too, because every little act of disrespect and aggression adds up to something larger in a world where being a female out in public makes you sexual prey.

Which is why I wish I had done something to protect the women he might do this to in the future.

Cause most women don’t like to be sniffed in public. That’s right I said sniffed.

Yeah, SNIFFED. Like a dog.

Here’s how it happened, girlfriends.

I was standing outside a grocery store in another town when a man came up behind me, got as close as he could without touching me…..and sniffed me.

Yeah, SNIFFED me. Like a dog.

My back had been to the store, so I didn’t see the man until he walked around me and went to his car. He shot a creepy smile over his shoulder, letting me know that he knew exactly what he had done.

I stood glued to my spot on the sidewalk, stunned by the guy’s brazen disrespect in such a public place. I watched him get in his car, still smiling his creepy smile. I watched him drive away, laughing to himself. I was pissed, but mainly I counted myself lucky that it hadn’t been something worse. At least he hadn’t touched me, I thought. Or yelled something humiliating. He was just a sad, pathetic guy who got a cheap thrill from sniffing women in public places. I was unharmed and I could laugh about the story with my friends.

But the more I thought about the incident it didn’t make me laugh, it made me MAD! Not just mad at the creep, but mad at myself.

Mad at myself because I hadn’t done anything. I just let him drive away, not even because I was that scared, but mainly because I was being selfish.

I say selfish because in my reaction to this guy I was thinking only about myself. “I got out of it. I wasn’t hurt. I didn’t live in the city where it happened.” Those were my thoughts as I silently watched him drive away.

But really my thought process should have been more like this: “What if he does this to one of us again? What if he does something worse to someone else? We need to stick together.”

The “we” of course, is all women, because whether you believe in the concept of global sisterhood or not, we are all in this together when it comes to street harassment.

When you confront or report a street harasser, you’re doing it not just for yourself, but for the future women the harasser may target. Getting catcalled at a construction site? When you call in and complain you save not just yourself, but all the future women walking by that site from unjust humiliation. When you get harassed by someone in a car? Get the license plate number if you can and call the authorities. You may never see the harasser again but some other women will, and your call could be what gets the harasser pulled over and scared off that type of behavior.

And if you get sniffed?

Well, I’ve thought a lot about what I could have done in the situation. Like I said it happened very fast and I think the first thing you should think about in any confrontation is your own safety.

Thinking back I wish I had at least taken a picture of the guy and his license plate with my camera phone. I would have felt safe enough to do that and I could have turned the picture and a description of the event into the managers at the grocery store he’d been exiting and of course the local police.

Sniffing somebody is strange enough, but all I can think about is how my police officer relative later told me that behavior like that is usually a first step to guys trying to touch women (or do worse) to them out in public.

Could I have done something so that if this guy tries to do something worse to a woman some of his information would already be on file? Or has he already done something worse (and my gut told me he was a pretty serious creep), and turning in the pictures could have helped another woman find justice?

I don’t want to beat myself up asking too many questions. I can’t change how I responded to a past situation, but I can think about how I’ll act in the future. The next time I’m harassed I hope I think not just about myself but about all of us — all the women out there who just want to be out in public without feeling like a target.

And if I can do something to make the next women’s life a little safer I’ll feel like I’ve done my part.

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