Public Harassment: Last term at my university…

Last term at my university I had an extremely important project due and only one day to get it finished. It was Friday and I woke up at 8:30am, went to school, and worked straight through until 9:00pm with no breaks. On my way home I was absolutely ecstatic to be free of all my work and officially be on vacation.

When I left the school it was already dark out, but I live literally a single block away from the school, so it was hardly intimidating. My walk home takes me across a little bridge overlooking the water and a walking path for tourists. It was halfway across the bridge that I heard some hooting and hollering and saw the silhouettes of three guys further up the path. I immediately identified them as a threat but second-guessed my instinct, thinking I was being paranoid. I ended up pausing on the bridge as I tried to decide whether to turn back and head for the well-lit community center I had just passed, when one of them spotted me deliberating and yelled, “It’s okay, sweetheart, we won’t hurt you!”

The word “sweetheart” probably should have tipped me off, but I’m timid and go out of my way to please people, so I started walking in their direction again to avoid offending them by turning the other way. They had positioned themselves so I had to walk directly through their midst, and they were clearly drunk. One guy was nearly passed out on a bush. The “leader” started talking to me, asking me if I was from and where I was going and if I wanted to go out with them. I smiled awkwardly and answered that I was from the school, but I was going home. He felt the need to tell me that he “likes students, especially little blonde ones”.

I was incredibly uncomfortable and kept repeating that I wanted to go home and was on my way. I tried over and over to end the encounter with dismissive one-word responses and goodbyes, but he completely ignored my words and my scrunched up body language. The thing that bothers me most today is that at one point I actually told the ringleader to “have a nice night”, as if he deserved my courtesy or well-wishing.

They kept following me until I was nearly home, and I was afraid he would find out my place of residence. I didn’t particularly want them to find out where I lived, even if the chances of them ever coming back to “get me” was slim. The leader continued yelling things at me like, “You know, you have a small waist and a big butt – guys like me like that”. I’d never invited him to make comments on my body. It wasn’t his right. He pretended to be complimenting me, but the real message of his words was “It’s dark, you’re alone, I’m stronger than you and I have friends to back me up”.

When I was only a few doors from my apartment, the group miraculously lost interest and turned to leave. I don’t know what finally convinced them to let me alone (it certainly wasn’t my disinterest), but they left and I got to go home, having had my fantastic joy at the start of my vacation turned into a fear and feeling of dirtiness.

I got to go home to an empty house feeling full of anger and guilt for my general politeness and inaction, whereas they got to go to some party, harass more women, and never think again about what happened. I’ve told myself that I was just polite to avoid provoking them, and others I’ve told the story to tell me I did the right thing, but feeling powerless is the absolute worst feeling in the world. Knowing that I couldn’t have done anything even if I wanted to shattered the illusion of control and freedom that I had once had in my life.

I didn’t get touched and I didn’t get raped. My story is no where near as bad as some women’s. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t enraging or eye-opening, and that definitely doesn’t mean it was okay.

Quite honestly, I don’t understand how people can claim that women are equals in our society when sexually-driven harassment and abuse is still a daily issue for us.