Guest Post: On Stalking.

I am standing at a tram stop in Brunswick waiting when a poster catches my eye. Someone has stuck it over the City of Moreland sign—a prominent place. Its headline screams: “Women Should Be Careful.” I’m hooked.

Upon reading the article I become increasingly angered as it goes on to explain how women should cover up and not expose their bodies to men as men can’t help but be attracted to that “provocative attire.” Not only should women expect to be sexually assaulted if showing skin, they are actually “asking for it.” I am outraged and start tearing the poster down but the man (I would assume and hope) has stuck it on with liquid nails. I manage anyway, throwing the wad of paper in the bin with a satisfying clunk. A woman is sitting on the bench near me also waiting for the tram. She turns to me and asks, “Didn’t like what it said?” No, I didn’t like it at all.

*

The idea that a woman is asking for it if she wears revealing clothing is repugnant. Not only is it outdated in 2011, it also allows men to get off scot-free. Whatever the length of my skirt, I refuse to be an excuse for a man’s behaviour. It is a common misconception that most women are harassed, attacked and stalked because of their provocative clothing or behaviour.

When I asked a group of friends to define the look of a stalking victim the consensus was a young (18–25) woman, thin, attractive, large breasts and, most importantly, wearing “slutty” clothing. It was also decided that most of these women will be stalked by men who had seen them out at a club/pub and followed home at very late hours. This profile is not true. According to California State University, 77% of female victims and 64% of male victims know their stalker and 59% of female victims and 30% of male victims are stalked by an intimate partner. This changes the image of a creepy guy hanging out in your garden after watching you dance at a party.

In a study by the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault it was revealed that only 1% of women surveyed were raped by a stranger. Clearly there is a different representation of this in the media. Still, even if most cases of stalking and rape will be carried out by someone who knows the victim, there are still instances when a stranger will take a shine to them.

*

I am on the train, coming home from work. I’m wearing a black dress, black stockings and a black coat and holding a bag of groceries. I sit down and accidentally knock the man in front of me with my bag.

“Sorry,” I say giving him a small apologetic smile.

“That’s okay,” he says, looking me up and down. “Are you coming home from work?”

“Yes.” I reply, not impolitely.

He then asks me where I work, what I do etc. I proceed to tell him, being polite but not particularly inviting. He then brags about working in an industry with a lot of money and invites me to join him at his work one day soon. I decline and then get off at my stop. He also gets off at my stop and I feel a tug at my bag of groceries. He offers to carry them for me and asks if I am married. I say no but that I have a boyfriend and he tells me that “we could always break up.”

He then asks where I live and follows me home. At this point I am pretty scared. It isn’t dark, it’s not isolated, I’m not wearing anything revealing… this isn’t how I expect the stalking story to play out. I panic and actually walk down my street before common sense kicks in and I stop two houses down from mine, pretending that it is my house, even going so far as to fumble with the letterbox pretending to check for mail. I get out my keys and ask him to leave. He then tries to invite himself in for coffee, then dinner, then a chat. I say no and am rude to him for the first time.

“Aren’t you going to go inside?” he asks, as if calling my bluff.

“Not until you are down the end of this street,” I say.

Then he says the words that stop me cold: “That’s ok, I know where you live. I can come anytime.”

The problem I had after this occurred was that I felt that it had been my fault. I shouldn’t have spoken to him, I shouldn’t have smiled at him, I should have been wearing a sack… all sorts of irrational thoughts went through my mind. Actually, the only thing I should regret is practically leading him to my door. That was stupid. When I told people, I was actually asked by one friend what I was wearing. Another told me I shouldn’t have used my “devastating” smile. The most common feedback I got, however, was that I’m just too nice. I shouldn’t be so polite and friendly to men because they take it as a sign that I’m flirting. This isn’t right! It just confirms what the poster said, that it’s the woman’s responsibility not to be stalked or get raped. I’m getting quite sick of men being blameless in these situations. It is the narrative that is constantly being touted by the media, in ads like the Razzamatazz stockings where you only see a woman’s legs in Razzamatazz and in the background are the men’s reactions to her sexy legs, implying they can’t help it. One of them spills a coffee, another trips over and a third is slapped by his girlfriend for looking. Unless ads like this stop then we will forever live in a sexist society that backs up the theory that the sexualisation of women is innate and part of our evolutionary journey.

At this point, I would like to say that I was living in fear every time I got on a train. I switched to the tram, I started calling my boyfriend to meet me at the station so we could walk home together and told all of my friends what had happened.

*

I am at work, re-entering the building after a break. He’s there in the foyer greeting me like an old friend. My colleague thinks we know each other, so walks ahead and leaves us alone. I am scared. I tell him I am busy and that I finish at 5pm. Why do I say that? The fear makes me irrational.

I try to tell him I’m busy after work and not to meet me, but he just smiles and says he’ll see me at five. I walk into the administration area, call my boss and start hyperventilating. Security sees me out at 5pm. I am flanked by two friends but I don’t see him. I can only hope that he is bothering another girl instead, then feel terrible for inflicting him on someone else.

*

I haven’t seen him since. I do live with the idea of him in that back of my mind, though. I just wish that other victims of stalking don’t blame themselves. Whatever I wear, wherever I go, yes means yes and no means no.

—Laura Money.

Related: Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Break My Slutty Stride.

The Taboos of Sexual Harassment.

On Stripping.

Elsewhere: [California State University Department of Police Services] Stalking, Threats & Annoying/Harassing Calls.

[Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault] Statistical Information.

 

16 thoughts on “Guest Post: On Stalking.

  1. Ah, Laura. You have my utmost sympathy with this post. Because it’s somewhere we’ve all been, isn’t it? If not to the point of being followed home or to our workplace, then being invited into a conversation with a stranger and not knowing the right point to back out.

    Not shutting them off immediately (because that would be “rude”, and isn’t it horrible how women are socialised to be wary of entering into conversations with men that they don’t know?), but knowing that the conversation is going to have to end at some point – almost always at a point before they want it to.

    Because, sadly, 19 times out of 20 they’ve only struck up conversation with you because they want something from you (a date, a kiss, sex), and the kinds men who strike up those conversations with strangers – and who set off our internal alarm bells – are often exactly the same kinds of men who will follow up home, or at least turn nasty when we end the interaction.

    Which makes me wonder… maybe our wariness isn’t just a product of socialisation, but of genuine instincts kicking in. I’ve made friends with (one or two) guys who’ve approached me in bars before – even guys who were hitting on me. Reason being? They treated it like an enjoyable social interaction rather than entrapment. Or in other words, they were genuinely nice people – not creeps.

    I hope you’re okay now. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Good post. It’s a shame when simply being polite to someone is interpreted as an invitation to stalk or worse.

    The only stalking victim I know of through work connections was targeted by his estranged ex-girlfriend. It can get pretty intense and difficult to defuse.

  3. Thanks Rachel and Dan,

    I agree, it really sucks that just being polite is something that can “get you into trouble.” I was always brought up with the morals that required me to be nice to people and not shut them down if they ask a question about our lives; how else are we supposed to get to know each other? If I really think about it, if I didn’t open myself up then I wouldn’t be friends with many people I’ve met out and certainly wouldn’t be with my boyfriend!

    I guess there has to be a balance. As for genuine instincts kicking in, I think you’re right Rachel. I felt like I was in control of the situation until he got off at the same station as me. As soon as he asked if I was married I went into fight or flight mode! What I find interesting is the way that the media portray stalking, which is why I felt so scared…things weren’t going the way they do in movies and ads, it was broad daylight and there were plenty of people around.

    Dan, you’re totally right that it is difficult to diffuse, especially if it’s someone you know. In many ways I think that would be harder. It always seems easier being “rude” to a stranger.

    Don’t worry, though, I feel a lot better now and am pretty sure I’d know how to handle the situation if it occured again. Oh, and I definately know what to do if I see him again!

    Laura

  4. I had similar experience (uni library twice, tram once, church once), All of them are Indian. coincident? i don’t know. I am now scared to get into a cab when the driver has darker skin and definitely ignore anyone who tried to do small talk to me on public transport.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story Laura.

    I was in a very similar situation when I was 19. I was on the train home from work, reading my university textbook, when an older man (40 years old) struck up conversation. At that point in my life I was taking the train to and from work a few times a week and talking to strangers on public transport was not only the norm but also something I enjoyed. My interaction with him was the only one that turned creepy. To cut a long story short, after a long conversation he asked for my number. It seemed fairly innocent because he was an expat, new to the city (I had a longterm boyfriend and was not interested in the slightest but I didn’t want to say no, and had not picked up on the insidious undertone). When he called the number straight away and I realised that he was making sure I had given him the correct number, it dawned on me that something was not quite right. Thankfully he didn’t follow me but he did call me as soon as I left the train (I didn’t answer) and leave escalating irate messages on my phone, berating me for not calling him back, showing his true colours. It didn’t go any further but it was certainly a scary time for me and prompted me to get a job that didn’t require public transport a few months later. Which is sad, because it was the only negative experience I had and marred all the loveliness I did encounter during that time in my life.

    I relate to the way you felt, trying to relate the situation to others… I felt ashamed, as if it was my fault somehow. Like you, when I told people I was advised that I had been too nice, or naive, or that I shouldn’t have spoken to him in the first place, just ignored him. I shouldn’t have given him my number. When all is said and done, I am glad that I followed my instincts and treated him with respect and courtesy. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Looking back with (a little) more maturity and perspective, I know that I did nothing wrong and I would probably act the same way if it happened today. The only difference is that I would have that man in the back of my mind… and I wouldn’t be as surprised, or hurt, if the situation repeated itself.

  6. I agree with you completely! There is something that is truly wrong with how society views the entire scenario. On one hand, women are often expected to be the more polite, more gentle, more understanding and giving of the two genders. At least until a man takes it the wrong way. Then, suddenly that simple politeness is looked at as an invitation.

    In regard to ‘asking for it’ by dressing sexy? I <3 to dress sexy, and do so as often as possible. Granted, I keep it apropriate to the occasion and/or environment, for the most part, but I do like to push the boundaries a bit. I do this partially because I simply think it's pretty, a woman's figure, and I feel lucky to be able to wear some of the things that I do. Another reason? I'm 34, 5'4 and 115 lbs. I have a decent figure, even after having 2 kids. I don't look much different than when I was 18. I'm not trying to brag here (because I see amazingly beautiful women all around all the time), just to express the gratitude and pride I have for my figure. So yes, I like to show it off. I know that, probably sooner than later, I won't be able to anymore. So until that day comes, I'm going to flaunt a little.

    The unfortunate side effect of this, though, is that people make assumptions about me because of it. Men think I'm easy or a slut and even if my verbal response to them says no, they hear/see yes. Women can be just as bad though. They get offended or territorial. Just because I'm wearing a mini skirt and little bitty shirt doesn't mean I want to sleep with you and it doesn't mean I want to take your man.

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  8. God. I’m so sorry; this is horrible. Home is my haven, where even an unsolicited knock at the door feels like an intrusion. I have had similar experiences to what happened on the train (not afterwards), and even though I know in my mind that it wasn’t my fault, I always feel like it was – maybe a way of pretending I might have some control when I feel completely powerless. You sound like you know it wasn’t your fault but I want you to be completely convinced, beyond a doubt. I’m friendly too; I’m a smiler, plus I work in retail so I’m very comfortable saying hello and making small talk with strangers, and find that myself taken advantage of frequently, in the best cases by people who feel the need to “educate” me, and in the worst cases, by men like the one you were so unfortunate to cross paths with. When this happens, friends and even my mother question my behaviour and always seem to find a way I could have stopped it sooner, and I want to scream. He was completely, irrefutably wrong, and not only were you not wrong, you were right; polite, and kind, and everything people should be. I hope you will feel safe enough to smile again soon.

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