Roadman Can

I have a distinct memory of being nearly abducted and that’s no exaggeration. I was 11 years old at the time and happened to be walking home from school, unsupervised. It was perfectly normal for kids to be on their own back then; we would knock for each other to play outside and then walk home independently – any time before dark was fine.

On this particular day the friends who I left school with had already gone home, I must have been at an afterschool club or something. The sun was shining and I was wearing grey tracksuit bottoms with a cardigan wrapped ‘round my waist. Despite only being 11, I had developed a little earlier and at the most could have passed for 13, which is still extremely young.

The walk home took me about 10 minutes and consisted of three main roads. On this day, I’d just reach the end of the first road a car when two men  in their mid-thirties began to holler at me. “Hello Miss. Oi, OI! What’s your name baby?” Being a child I fell straight into an unfamiliar panic, ignoring their attempt to engage. Rather than driving off, the men slowed down and began to drive at my walking pace. They continued talking inappropriate nonsense until I honestly responded with “You’re scaring me”, to which they erupted in impudent laughter.

5 long minutes passed until I found myself at a zebra crossing where I was allowed to cross; heads turning to watch where I was going. I arrived at North Ealing Station – literally 2 minutes from my family home – to see that they were STILL following me. Using initiative I practically flew into a corner shop just a few feet away. My eyes filled with tears as I explained to the owner that I was being followed. My dad (who’d been contacted by the shop keeper) turned up about 30 seconds later. When we left the men were still waiting for me. My dad, cursing obscenities, jotted down their license plate number and phoned the police, who said there was nothing they could do. They didn’t make a note of license plate number. They didn’t record the incident. The were inactively negligent.

Over the next 6 months I was picked up and dropped literally everywhere and was no longer allowed to play outside without a trusted adult present.  I didn’t feel particularly traumatised by the event – although – my heart rate would increase rapidly every time I saw a similar looking vehicle. Needless to say I was still naïve, I  felt like a grown up and therefore didn’t realise the severity of the situation. I know now looking back that the outcome could have been unimaginable.

I was lucky.

Time passed and the incident was forgotten. Primary school was over and by the time I was thirteen I began to take an interest in guys. I no longer attended a mixed school and had forgotten what it was like to have male friends; I didn’t know how to engage with them and would feel grateful for any kind of male attention. Boys would approach me with what can only be determined as “swag”, colloquial slang spilling from their lips like dribble and I accepted there method of approach: “Sup babes you give shiners, yeah?”, or “Psst!” were just a couple of the romantic notions I received. Thank god for the blessing of time, when I learnt to avoid ill-mannered pursuits and that not all attention is good attention.

I see parallels between the way young boys target girls with the car-following predators. I’m sure not all the males who’d approached me  over time were necessarily dangerous, they just had no idea how to engage.

A couple of years ago I was on the way to a walk-in clinic (being a hypochondriac routine check-ups are my thing) and I remember a guy sitting in his car, looking like a cross between a mole and John Leguizamo. Crossing the road, I low-key noticed the thirst of desperation in his eyes and thought: “Fuck”.

Before I was able to exhale my next breath, the mole-guy u-turned his car and parked up beside me. “You alright babes, you got a second, yeah?” “I’m 3 months pregnant and off to a scan so I can’t talk!” I snapped. Of course I wasn’t, I just needed the right kind of excuse to be left alone.

Some young men don’t understand that their style of approach is intimidating. And it’s not me being conceited; I haven’t met a girl who hasn’t experienced this unwanted kind of attention. Forcing connection, hollering at someone in the street or driving up to them is harassment and needs to lessen. It’s a problem.

Once a guy wearing a colourful hat walked over surrounded by 5 of his friends and I kid you not I thought he was going to rob me. Having invaded my personal space with our noses almost touching and gazing at my phone in hand I started running – like literally – running. I sprinted all the way to Holborn station and didn’t look back. His friends erupted into laughter and I realized the poor guy was actually “on the chirps” as opposed to desiring my smashed up Blackberry.

More recently a guy in North London popped over my shoulder like an irritating wasp and buzzed: “Wassup miss pretty pretty?” It was so unexpected that I practically jumped out of my skin as he starting walking alongside me.  Turns out he was quite a bubbly and warm character, just utterly clueless. I gave him the old “I’m pregnant” speech and rather than being deterred he asked “What? So is your man taking care of you babes or can I still take your number?” Oh. Dear. God.

I hate walking home after a night out because I feel feel threatened. A friend of mine suggested that I ‘walk like a nutter’ by “swinging your arms like golf clubs, keeping your legs wide apart and occasionally shouting at yourself whilst twitching”. I’ve considered carrying the pepper spray my mum bought me 10 years ago, but I’m not sure the bouncers at the club wouldn’t appreciate this form of ‘weaponry’. As young women we should feel safe within our communities, we should be able to have an element of trust for our surroundings; regardless of place, time and gender.

My advice for guys who haven’t quite yet mastered tact and respect, wait for eye contact and a smile before you choose to ambush a woman. Be mindful when it comes to things like personal space – sometimes we don’t wish to engage and shouldn’t feel pressured to do so. Once I was in Paris and a man stopped me on the street just to say “Sorry to bother you – I just wanted to say that you look very elegant today” and left it at that. This was a gesture I could appreciate because he didn’t make me feel sexually objectified, nor did he hold the expectation that I owe him a conversation.

Following, hollering  and sneaking up on someone you’ve never met before is creepy as hell. I’ve been yelled at, stalked and even hissed at and can’t say I’ve enjoyed any of these mediums. If you want a girl to notice you, google ways to make a good impression and do so without expecting reciprocation. We don’t owe you anything, so stop pressuring us.

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