Street harassment flashback shocks me

October 20, 2008

On the Shakesville blog, people are answering the question: “In what ways has the idea of sexual assault and/or street harassment affected your daily movements?” The question was posed on Saturday and already there are over 400 responses. Since this is exactly one of the topics I want to discuss in a book I plan to write on street harassment, I was thrilled and I have been eagerly reading through the posts. It never ceases to amaze me how much our lives are impacted by street harassment.

I was part-way through reading a post by FriedaK about getting followed by a guy in a car as she walked home from a night shift at work when I had a flashback to a street harassment incident I had completely forgotten about. Over a year ago when I first began researching street harassment, I wrote down all of the “major” incidents I could recall but I didn’t remember this one.

In this incident I was either 14 or 15 years old and I was running a 6 mile loop through the streets near my house in Pacific Palisades, CA. I think it was a Saturday morning. I ran up Sunset Blvd and then cut up into a very affluent neighborhood because they had a large hill I liked running up. I’d run this route many times.  This day, I was part-way up the hill (and about 2.25 miles into my run) when a man in a car started driving slowly beside me. My heart quickened but I gave him the benefit of the doubt that he was probably looking for a certain house, etc. Still, I increased my pace.

I ran about another 3/4th of a mile with him still beside me and I was getting more nervous each second. There was no one on the street and most of the houses had big security gates and looked very intimidating and I didn’t really see running up to one of them for help as a viable solution. By that point, he’d been beside me long enough that I worried that he was up to no good. I was too freaked out to look at him and so I just pretended I didn’t notice him and wasn’t bothered. I reached the peak of the hill and as soon as I saw a side street, I sprinted down it and kept going full speed, weaving in and out of side streets until I reached Sunset Boulevard, a well populated street.

I didn’t see him again during the run but I was really shook up. I’d been running alone for a few years at that point and I had generally always felt safe (though not enough to run at night) and it was a big shock to not feel safe anymore. My mom bought mace for me to carry around that time and I can’t remember if it was in response to that incident or not.

Compared to so many women whose stories I’ve read, this incident is nothing. I wasn’t assaulted, raped, attacked, nor did I even have anything offensive or threatening yelled at me. He may not have been following me at all. I will never know. But I do know it was very real to me at the time and in the few minutes since I remembered it happening, I have felt shaky and scared just thinking about it. It’s surprises me that I forgot about this incident and that remembering it has upset me so much.