Yesterday evening as I was walking home a man followed me.
On the bus I noticed him staring at me, and when I got off, he did too. As I crossed the road, I realised he was behind me and that we were going in the same direction, up the same quiet dark street. I hung back on the busier main road corner and fiddled with my handbag. A couple stopped to ask me for directions. After about five minutes — plenty of time to create distance between us —I continued on my way. As I reached the next corner, there he was — standing in the shadows beside a hedge. I turned and fled back down to the main road.
I realise there is a possibility — even a probability — that I over-reacted. There are a hundred and one innocent explanations for his behaviour. Perhaps he had not been staring at me on the bus, but had been thinking of something else while looking at me. Maybe he wasn’t waiting for me on a dark corner. He could have been lost. He may have been delayed because he stopped to answer his phone or remove a stone from his shoe. Maybe he was a creep, or maybe he was just an “accidental creep” — a person who doesn’t realise that their actions are unnerving to others.
Every woman I know has a scary story. I have plenty — I’ve been followed on several occasions; grabbed unexpectedly by strangers; had insults and threats shouted at me from cars; and had an encounter with a knife-wielding would-be attacker who followed me into a public bathroom. When I walk by myself, especially after dark in quiet areas, I am constantly alert to danger. After your first bad experience — and if you are a woman you’ll almost certainly have more than one — you learn to be cautious. I realise that men are not immune to random attack either, but the threat of sexual violence is not an ever present fear for most guys.
Most men don’t realise the state of semi-paranoia that is the lot of many women when we walk down quiet dark streets alone. Because of this, men sometimes behave in perfectly innocent ways that terrify us. The accidental creep is not someone with bad intentions, but someone who is oblivious to the effects of their actions. If that’s you, I’d like to make you aware of the little things you could do so that you don’t accidentally creep someone out. These are not rules — you are not obliged to follow them — they are merely suggestions.
If you find yourself behind a woman walking down a quiet dark street, please keep a reasonable distance. Most women get a little freaked out hearing footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. Yes, I realise you are probably in a rush to get home, but a few extra minutes won’t make a huge difference.
CROSS OVER THE ROAD
If possible, cross over to the other side. I’m always grateful when a man does that because it means he is sensitive enough to be aware of his actions and is clearly indicating that he is not a threat.
DON’T CROSS OVER TOWARDS A WOMAN
Let’s say you are walking down a street; a woman is walking in the opposite direction on the other side. You need to cross over. Fine. But please don’t cross over walking towards us. It looks like you are coming for us, even though you’re just aiming for the corner.
DON’T FLIRT IN QUIET AREAS
One evening I was in the dog park. It had been a raining all day and the park was empty. Then a man arrived. He asked if my dog was dangerous. I said no. He then walked up towards me, held his hands out towards my face and told me I was pretty. Now, by themselves each of these remarks are innocent. In combination — especially with his actions — they seemed like he was wondering if he would get bitten if he touched me. A minute later, a second woman with a dog arrived so I distanced myself, told her what had happened, and we stuck together for the duration of our time in the park. I’ve spoken to plenty of men in the park, and I don’t think you should never talk to a woman in quiet areas, but flirting is a bad idea here.
DON’T GET OFFENDED
There may be occasions when you accidentally frighten a woman and you realise she is looking at you as if you are a potential rapist. To the average guy, this is insulting. I know that, but please don’t get offended or angry. This will only make the situation worse. Don’t try to explain either. The best thing to do is excuse yourself and walk away.
Most men are perfectly harmless — I know that, you know that, everyone knows that. What women don’t know is whether or not any particular man is a threat or not. We also know that statistically speaking, a woman is far more likely to be sexually assaulted by someone she knows. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t worry about “stranger danger” — we do. It is not pleasant to be regarded as a threat; but I’m pretty sure being on that side of the equation is better than the heart-stop fear of feeling threatened. Please be aware of that. Use your judgement — and a little consideration. Trust me, it’ll be appreciated.