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In August of 2011, my city held a “clean commuting challenge” to encourage people to walk, bike, carpool, etc. to work. Having recently moved from a city where walking was very much a part of my lifestyle, I was excited for the opportunity to get into the habit again — exercise, fresh air, saving my gas money. So all week long, I walked the one mile each way to and from work. And I felt great.
But on Friday, everything changed.
I was about a third of the way home when I crossed the railroad tracks, and a young man came out of the barbershop nearby. He watched me pass, whistled, and said something derogatory. I ignored him and kept walking, as I always did in such instances. But this time was different. This time, he followed me, and continued to “talk” to me, with increasingly angry comments. “Too good for me huh,” “White girl with her nose in the air,” and some other, more personal things too profane to repeat here.
I was terrified. I didn’t know what to do. I had no mace, no self-defense training. Didn’t know anybody in the area yet. Cars zoomed by on Grand River Avenue, but nobody was paying any attention. I felt completely powerless.
Finally, he stopped talking. But he kept following me. I tried walking faster. He sped up, too. I tried slowing down to let him pass me. He slowed down, too. Finally I turned down my street, thinking he wouldn’t dare turn and follow me, not with an elementary school right there on the corner. But the schoolyard was empty, and no one was around on my street. And he kept following me.
A few doors down from my house, I walked up the driveway of a neighbor’s house and hid behind it, imagining that he would think this was my house and his little game would end there. I waited, watching the time. Five minutes passed. I peeked out from the side of the house — and there he was, standing on the sidewalk, arms folded. Watching me. Waiting.
I finally called 911 and when the police came, he tried to run away. They caught him and took him in, but had to let him go the next day. I was told I couldn’t press charges because he hadn’t actually done anything to me.
But he did do something to me.
I never walked to work again. I never felt safe in my neighborhood again, or even in my own house — as close as I was to the street, I kept imagining he, or someone like him, might be waiting outside for me.
Eventually, I moved to a different neighborhood. But I still don’t walk anywhere by myself. And I feel angry about it. A man can walk around practically anywhere he wants and have no fear. But a woman has to be told, has to feel, it’s not safe.
It’s not fair.
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