I live in New Jersey and my boyfriend lives in Manhattan, and we only see each other on the weekends. We therefore try to squeeze in as much time together as possible, which frequently results in me waiting in Penn Station for a train late at night.
On this particular night, I was waiting at midnight on the top of the steps leading from a busy corridor into the NJ Transit concourse. I saw a black man in a black winter hat walking through the concourse below me, holding an open pack of Newport cigarettes. He got to me and offered me one. I turned him down. He then offered me a new MetroCard, still wrapped. Nonplussed, I told him that I already had one. He made some comment about my jeans which I didn’t catch, then tried to put his arm around my back, (a move which I can’t stand thanks to my first encounter with street harassment,) and I flinched away. He commented on it, and added, “You’re not PREJUDICED or anything, right? It’s not because I’m BLACK, is it?”
I replied, “No, I’m not prejudiced. I just really don’t like strangers touching me.”
He then got me to exchange names and shake hands (he’d made me feel like I had to prove that I wasn’t racist), held my hand too long, and said, “Your hand is cold.” I said, “I just came in from outside!” He then held my hand a second longer, let go, said, “Have a good night, baby,” and disappeared.
I felt hideously violated, even though all he’d done was touch my back and make comments. I felt like he hadn’t done anything that the police would act on, plus I wasn’t sure where the nearest police booth was, so I didn’t report it.
However, I started having massive anxiety attacks at the thought of being in Penn Station after 9 PM, which resulted in my spending an extra night with my boyfriend several times. It was weeks before I managed to face my fear and go back to my normal routine, and then it was only with the help of my boyfriend accompanying me to the station that I did so. I had the worst anxiety attack I’ve had in years the night my boyfriend accompanied me from his apartment at 10 PM, but I am now back to my regular routine. However, I now carry pepper spray, and I know the locations of the police booths around the NJ Transit area. (Ironically, I was only yards away from one, though that booth is not always occupied.)
I am furious – no man should ever have the power to make a woman afraid to do *anything!*
Location: Penn Station, NYC