“My politeness seems to be an open invitation for harassment”
I’ve lived in the Bay Area my whole life and have experienced all sorts of street harassment (cat calling, inappropriate touching, etc.), but what happened recently has really made me question if I should even bother responding to small talk from strangers at all.
On the night of 2/17 (approx. 8:30pm), I was making my way to the train station after my evening class and was approached by a man who looked to be in his late 30s-40s. He told me he liked my boots. I said “Thanks.” My wardrobe was basic: hoodie, scarf, long thermal + t-shirt, jeans and bright red Dr. Marten boots. He then proceeded to keep the conversation going by asking me my name, where I was heading and if we could walk to the train station together. I started to feel uneasy at that point considering that a classmate told me about a series of sexual assaults near the campus. However, despite my uneasiness, he looked harmless and seemed like he was lonely and needed someone to talk to. I was raised to be polite so I agreed to his request, but made a point to be very cautious by walking under the light and close to other people.
Once we made it to the station, we exchanged information about our goals in school, where we lived, just basic ‘get to know you’ stuff. The first red flag that I noticed was when I told him about my train exit, he responded with: “Oh well, I have the extra money to visit there so I’ll get off the same stop as you.” I was immediately taken aback and got really nervous since his train is on the opposite side of the platform. Earlier he told me that he was going home then all of a sudden changes his mind? I asked him “Do you even know anyone in the area?” and he said, “Yeah, I have a couple of friends who live there. In fact, I got my first car there.” I got my cell phone out of my backpack and started texting my boyfriend, unfortunately, since the train station is underground I couldn’t get any reception! I panicked, but did not show it.
The second red flag was when he started commenting on my looks and told me how pretty my smile was and that he was glad he met me. He sounded so OBSESSED and creepy. The way he looked at me made me feel dirty. With cell phone in hand, I told him that I had to make an IMPORTANT phone call and he should stick around so we could take the train together. He said “OK, I will be waiting for you.” I didn’t bother letting him finish his sentence and ran upstairs as fast as I could and notified the station agents about my situation. I could barely speak because I was terrified at that point. When I finally got reception I called my boyfriend and told him that I was really scared and asked if he could pick me up. The wait (about 15 minutes) felt like hours! The man never came upstairs to check on me (thankfully!) and finally my phone rang. I felt so relieved… who knows how the night could have ended if I would have never made that phone call.
I was pretty shaken up that night and still am. As I’ve mentioned in the beginning I have dealt with my fair share of street harassment, but nothing to this degree. This guy was willing to get off the same exit as I did even though he lives the opposite way! This story may not seem like a big deal, but I will never forget the look in his eyes. The last time someone followed me home I ended up being sexually assaulted so this incident brought back a lot of bad memories.
As of now, I don’t have any solid plans for my after school commute, but have decided to ignore compliments from strangers entirely. My politeness seems to be an open invitation for harassment or inappropriate behavior. I can’t dress up or dress down. Nothing seems to help! What’s a girl to do?
Thanks for reading and stay safe out there.
Submitted by S.P.