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Sexual Harassment

On Friday morning, I was sexually harassed for a continuous 15 minutes as I walked into work.

This is my story.

My mornings are pretty much all the same. I wake up approximately 2 hours before work, drive to our free parking area around 30 minutes prior to the start of my shift, and then take a leisurely, 20- to 25-minute walk into downtown Nashville to my building. Now, I could pay for a monthly parking spot at a nearby lot, but I actually like the walk into the city. It gives me a solid 20 minutes of simply being by myself. I put my headphones in, play some music, and zen my way into the hustle and bustle of downtown Nashville without a single care in the world. Not only that, but I get some exercise at the start of my day, and I save $30-50 a month on parking.

My view on the way into work.
I've been working at this job for around a month and a half now and have worked downtown prior to this job, and I've never had a single problem short of the mentally ill homeless people that frequent some of those areas. I've learned to adjust my route to make sure I don't step foot on their turf, so those people are rarely an issue for me.

Cut to this past Friday...

My routine was the same. I woke up, got ready, drove, and subsequently parked. I was making excellent time, and I put my headphones in to start the music. 

Bad news bears: the battery was dead. I have a pair of Even headphones that I purchased a year or so ago, and while I love them, the only drawback is that they require charging the battery regularly. Even earbuds tune music to fit your personal hearing ability that they use a hearing test to determine, and the battery is required to run that feature. I often forget, so I sometimes am left to walk silently to work. Not a huge deal, but the music makes the walk exponentially more bouncy. 

This morning was one of the mornings where I had forgotten to charge them, but, like I usually do, I kept them in my ears. I could still hear the world outside, but they do a good job of dulling the construction noises and discouraging people from talking to me (introverts, represent!). My walking time is my me-time, and I'll be damned if I let people bother me in the middle of it.

Anyway... I start walking, and shortly after I cross a street, I notice a man crossing the street behind me. I typically make sure to keep my wits about me (it's a skill you learn while living in New York City -- or any city, really), but his presence didn't immediately set off any alarms. On my route to work, I often run across people doing the same thing as me: walking to or from their places of business. We usually smile, give a cursory nod, and continue going our separate ways. I assumed the same from this man.

The man began walking behind me, and I didn't really think much of him until I heard the muttering. At first, it was a quiet, unintelligible hum of a low voice. Like I said, I was wearing headphones, and I didn't feel it necessary to take them out. After a few seconds, the murmuring got louder, and I could hear words.

"... fuck... grab you... pound..."

Warning flags started signaling like mad, my pulse quickened, and I picked up my pace. After a moment, I second-guessed myself. 

"You know what, Stef? He could be on the phone with someone. I have my headphones in, so who am I to think that he's talking to me specifically? Or maybe he's an actor running lines, and I'm misunderstanding the whole thing."

Only... he was keeping up with me. I had increased my pace by quite a lot, and he hadn't lagged behind at all. And he was still muttering. Louder.

"... yank that red hair..."

Ah, there we go. He is talking about me. Great.

At this point, I was unsure how to escape. We were walking across a bridge, there weren't any other people on it at the time, and the only other beings around were driving by quickly in vehicles. I took my phone out of my pocket and held it clearly in my hand so that he could see it. I also slowed my pace, just in case I was still misunderstanding the situation, giving him plenty of space to pass me to my left. He matched my pace again, continuing his obscene talk.

"You won't even know what hit you."

We were nearing the end of the bridge, and I had full intentions of walking toward an area where I usually see police posted. It was a bit off my normal route, but I figured it'd be a good, safe place to go.

Directly after the bridge, I took a right when I normally go straight. This goes into a park-type monument area, and judging by the man's clothes (suit and tie) I sincerely doubted he had any business walking there. Except he followed me, never lagging behind yet never passing me. I clutched my purse, picked up the pace once again, and took a few random turns that I knew would lead me to the area I saw frequented by the authorities. This man followed me at each turn without hesitation, even going in a complete circle around a block at one point.

Unfortunately, when I looked for the policemen, there were none there that morning. I had no other options but to make a beeline for my office which was around 2 blocks away in a separate direction. I took a right, and he followed me once again. I was scared, angry, and before I knew it, I said, "Oh, come on, man!" after I saw him copy my movements again. I'm unsure of how loud I was because of my earbuds, but this must have spooked him for some reason. He stopped in his tracks, pulled out his phone, pretended to get a call, and turned around and walked in the opposite direction, leaving me to walk the remaining block or so to work in peace.

A few minutes later, I was on the 8th floor of my building, my heart still racing, and unable to focus on my work. But I was safe. And that's all that matters.

In today's climate, I am reticent to make any claims or allegations about people. In my opinion, what's going on in Hollywood and politics right now feels like a giant witch hunt that, at its end, will have done nothing but set us back decades. But that's an entirely different blog post for an entirely different time.

All I know is that this experience did not surprise me. I am not shocked that a man did this. I was scared (this man was much larger than me, and I would have stood no chance in a physical altercation against him), but I was not stunned by his behavior or words.

It is 2017, I am a woman, and I expect men to behave in this manner.



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