Feeling hunted and haunted

Katie Loughran, @Katie__Loughran

Imagine you’ve just gotten done with your final class of the night after a seemingly endless day of lectures and note-taking. You check your phone to see it’s almost 10:00 pm and your car is the last one left in the parking lot. You take a deep breath as you step out of the perceived safety of your college campus and onto the endless miles of concrete that seem to separate you from your ticket home. You pull out your keys and put them between your knuckles like claws, praying that you’ll never be close enough to use that last line of defense. Your quick steps are temporarily halted as your increased sense of awareness alerts you to your worst fear: there are footsteps coming from behind you. 

Your mind flashes back to disturbing images of that guy who’d seemed to live in your peripheral vision the entire day, the one whose gaze felt as intense as the sun. You find yourself wishing you’d asked a security guard to walk you to your car but, then again, you hadn’t recalled even seeing one in the first place. You’ve started jogging while mentally preparing yourself for the possible sprint you may just have to break into. The footsteps behind are starting to seem louder and closer. You can’t bring yourself to turn around and face whatever monster that might be behind you so you pretend to take a phone call and loudly announce where you are and that you plan to be home soon. While balancing your phone between your cheek and shoulder, you ready your keys in your shaking hands. You know better than to unlock your car until you’re within arms reach of it so that whoever’s following closely behind you won’t be able to jump in too. Once you’ve finally reached it, you throw the door open only to slam it shut and lock it once you’re inside. 

The feeling of relief that begins to wash over you is stopped short as you realize that you aren’t out of the woods yet. You don’t waste another second starting your car and driving off. You look in your rearview mirror to see the person who’d made you feel hunted is standing alone in the space where your car had once been. Hot tears begin to stream down your face as you feel yourself overcome with relief yet still racked with fear. 

Now imagine that wasn’t some made-up scenario but instead, your reality. This was mine last week. 

Unfortunately, this is not a one-off incident, but rather a recurring nightmare that I and many others live out every single day. According to a recent survey from Stop Street Harassment, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide,” observed that “81% of women and 43% of men reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime.”

More specifically,  a Farah and Farah survey reported that when it comes to walking alone to your car at night in parking lots, a staggering 63.6 percent of women felt unsafe. In comparison, only 24.2 percent of men reported feeling unsafe in the same situation. 

Our general feelings of paranoia and uncertainty when it comes to walking alone at night only intensify with each report of assault that comes to light. A particular report from KPIX 5, CBS SF Bay Area, included some incredibly chilling details, 

“The victim told deputies a man approached her while she was walking and asked her for assistance. She said as they neared the parking garage, the man grabbed her and began choking her until she was unconscious, according to sheriff’s officials.”

This incident, that took place on October 28, 2011, is one of many that occur all too frequently. 

One of the worst parts of this issue is the knowledge that no matter how well you prepare, no matter how much pepper spray you carry on your person, no matter the number of keys you grip between each of your fingers, you’ll continue to be at risk of encountering the truly evil parts of the world.

This fact will remain irrefutable until we’re able to provide better and more comprehensive safety precautions and preventive measures for those of us who endure these risks on a daily basis. 

Until then, I and many others will know no peace and no calm when it comes to walking alone at night. We will only know fear.