Through the viewfinder of the camera, I admired the luminous glow that bordered her silhouette. A single flicker. The moment captured before our evening took a turn. Taking photos as the sun set downtown on that pleasant evening seemed like such a splendid idea at the time.
Mere seconds after that photo was taken, rough voices echoed from the sidewalk parallel to us. I brushed off my nervous thoughts as paranoia at first. I held my camera up to take another picture but stopped when I heard heavy footsteps nearing.
Turning around in a panic and noticing the sudden emptiness of the streets, my glance shifted to three boys. They appeared to be visibly drunk college students with bottles clasped in their hands.
One boy turned back toward his friends and whispered something that caused the others to break out in laughter. They looked at each other and then back at us while muttering unintelligible comments. Obviously eying us, one of them pointed in our direction.
In a panic, I briefly glanced back at my friend, Halle. One of the boys sprinted across the street while calling out “Hey, hot stuff!” Her obliviousness became apparent when I noticed her back was to them. Overcome by a contradictory sensation, my head turned left to right and then right to left repeatedly, yet I felt frozen.
In a strained whisper, all I could manage to get out was, “Halle. Walk fast. Really fast. Don’t run. Walk fast. Now!” Panic clung to every word. We fled. Two blocks. Four blocks. Six blocks away, and they were still trailing us. Finally, we encountered a group of about five. We stood close to them in order to appear less vulnerable. Mimicking the steps of the group in order to maintain our proximity worked until they went into a restaurant.
Checking over our shoulders, we noticed the boys were still loitering at the end of the street, so we sped around the corner in hopes of losing them since we were out of their sight at last. We waited, caught our breath and muttered profanities.
After about 10 minutes, we turned around to head back to her car. It was just three minutes away, in sight at the end of the street. Her car stood so near yet so far. We made it about 10 feet before seeing the guys again, stumbling up the opposing sidewalk. They were relentless.
Pivoting around the corner again, we kept walking. This time our pace naturally slowed as our legs weakened. Cutting through parking lots and passing through sketchy backroads and allies, we walked for nearly an hour navigating ourselves back to her car. The sun was setting, and our parking meter as well as our energy running low.
Merely walking in public shouldn’t be scary. We shouldn’t have had to worry, staying alert, constantly checking the surroundings. Sidewalks should be safe for everyone.
Though we had to make quite the detour, we still made it back to her car. We drove to another, safer location with more people, took some photos but constantly remained aware of our surroundings and checked over our shoulders. We still managed to enjoy ourselves despite our previous experiences. While we succeeded in escaping the situation, not everyone is that lucky.
According to Stop Street Harassment, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ending gender-based street harassment, 65 percent of women say they have experienced some form of street harassment, and 45 percent say they don’t feel safe walking alone at night. Street harassment is a common encounter for women. For the majority of women who have experienced street harassment, there have been multiple incidents.
This was my first time dealing with these behaviors but probably not the last. From this experience, however, I can learn.
Now when I’m out in public I am more alert, aware of my surroundings and prepared. I will not allow this experience to deter me from exploring.