I just went to the grocery story to get some juice, not to stop a rape, but it feels like the latter is what happened.
I was walking out of the Giant, with my bag of groceries, all bundled up in my coat, cap, and gloves because it’s below freezing out there. From the checkout stand, I’d walked behind a tall guy who was walking behind a woman shorter than me. They were talking back and forth. I hadn’t really thought about them, but if I’d been asked to describe them, I might have thought they were acquaintances, friends, or partners who went shopping together.
As we all just exited the store, she pushed her cart into the cart stall and collected her bags as he asked her what her name was. I walked past them. And then I processed what I just heard and I started. I turned back to see what was going on, but kept walking home, just very much slower.
He asked her for her name again and I could see she was doing one of those things where a woman can tilt her head while looking at a person to convey, “Really?” but she told him her name was Colleen. I did not hear him say his name, but I heard him ask for her number. And I heard her say, “No.”
And just in case I wasn’t sure I had heard her correctly, he said, “Oh, you funny! You said, ‘No.’ C’mon, girl!”
I stopped and turned and watched them and felt ugly feelings in my stomach.
She started to walk with her bags away from him into the parking log, presumably toward her car (or possibly the apartment complex across from the store). I heard him announce he was going to walk with her and then he did indeed follow her.
I started asking myself, “Is this harmless? Should I intervene and ask if that dude is bothering her? Is this okay? I don’t think he’s touched her, but she said no and he isn’t going away.”
Turned out she was going to her car, which was just a couple of cars into the lot, so I could continue to see and kind of hear what was going on from where I stood on the sidewalk, just a couple yards from the exit of the Giant. I looked around and people were walking back and forth past me, not looking at me, not looking around, not looking at Colleen and her hunter.
I saw Colleen open her car’s driver door, put her bags in and get in. I saw her hunter stand there at the door while it was still open, continuing to talk to her. I couldn’t tell if he was keeping it open or not.
I decided someone should intervene. I immediately felt fear. I feared he could hit me, stab me, or shoot me. And maybe in 1999, I’d have told myself those were silly fears in a well-traversed grocery store parking lot, but there have been too many shootings in much better lit places this year and I thought there was a real chance I could die if I got involved.
And then I thought about Colleen getting abducted, assaulted, and raped.
And then I was walking when I hadn’t realized I’d started.
I got to the front of her car where I could see that it didn’t look like she was distressed so much as annoyed and the hunter wasn’t preventing her from closing her door, but he was keeping up a steady stream of conversation so it seemed she felt it would be too rude to close the door on him.
I leaned toward her and said, “Ma’am, are you okay? Are you all right?”
She looked up at me and smiled and said, “I’m fine, thank you.”
I nodded at her and said, “Okay,” and started slowly backing away. She closed her car door and started it up and then I turned to walk home.
And then it occurred to me that the hunter, at whom I hadn’t directly looked the whole exchange, could be following me. I did not live in that apartment complex across the lot, but it had a brightly lit lobby through which people walked all day and night and certainly at 7:30pm.
I headed there. I listened for footsteps. I got to the entrance. I turned around and saw… nobody.
Was I a fool? Was it all harmless? Did I overreact?
I think about all the women who get assaulted all the time. The numbers are always, always higher than you think, because women hate to report it. Because they’re taught to hate to report it. Because they’re taught to take it when guys treat them like auction items to bid on. Because they’re taught to accept it when their “No” gets ignored. Because people walk back and forth and don’t look around.
I think I reacted appropriately. I think that hunter might not think he’s anything but a good guy. But I think if fewer people were around and he’d felt just a little more assertive, something ugly could have happened, even if he hadn’t planned it.
I wish I’d spoken up sooner. I wish I’d been brave enough to address him directly to tell him that his behavior was not acceptable. I wish it didn’t take bravery to tell a stranger that harassing women is a Bad Thing.
But I’m glad I did something. What would you have done in my place?