Strangers and the Gift of Fear

It was 9 PM.  Trapeze class had just ended and I was waiting for the bus home.  It was dark.  To make the wait shorter, I was on the phone to Boobook.

He walked up to me and stood there, waiting.  A fellow bus passenger, I guessed.  I was still chatting with Boobook when he started talking.  At first I wasn’t sure who he was talking to, but then I realised that he was talking to me.

He was a complete stranger.  I didn’t know him at all, but I was polite.  I’m the friendly sort and I like making friends with new people, even people I don’t even know.  Still, something about his demeanor was off, especially since he had started a conversation with me when I was clearly on the phone with someone.  I told Boobook to hold on for a second while I addressed the stranger.

He asked me where I was going and which bus I was waiting for.

“Home.” I told him, “Any of the buses on this stop will take me there.”

He said it was dangerous for a woman to be at the bus stop at night alone.  I said I didn’t mind as the buses were fairly regular and I didn’t have to wait very long.

Then, he offered me a ride home.  He didn’t ask where I lived, he merely said that he would drive me home.  He dangled his keys in my face and shook them, disorienting me so that I could not get a good look at his face.  I remember the keys.  They were on a Mazda keyring.  I remember the folder he was carrying, it was plastic.  Blue with green stripes.  I remember his strange bobcut, which framed his face.

I cannot remember his face.  I was too distracted by the keyring and the folder.

I realised at that point that he wasn’t a fellow bus passenger, but a very creepy person.  I was certain that he did not have my best interests at heart even though he remained polite and friendly.

I told him that I was fine, that I would make it home on my own and that the bus would come soon.

He continued to jangle the keys in my face and repeat his offer, now more agitated.  I stood up, put the phone to my ear and began walking towards the nearby pub.

He followed me.

He followed me.  For two blocks until I saw the bus.  I ran alongside the bus and waved at them, frantic.  If it did not stop, I would run to the pub and stay there.  The bus driver wasn’t going very fast.  He saw my distress and stopped for me.  Boobook was afraid too, ready to call the police should I scream, or stop talking.  He did not stop talking to me until my heart had stopped beating so fast.

When I called the police the next morning, they asked me all sorts of questions about the man, but I couldn’t remember his face.  I couldn’t remember the clothes he was wearing or anything pertinent.  All I could tell them was the name of the pub, the area where the bus stop was and the man’s hair and keyring.  Everything else was a blur.

The police said that they couldn’t do anything about it unless a few more women complained about the same person.

I told this to a friend of mine, and she related a story in which the details were similar.  A man had approached her and offered her a lift home in his car.  She told him that she was fine but he kept following her, getting more and more insistent that she come with him, almost to the point of violence.  Eventually, she managed to run all the way home and lock the doors.  He stayed outside her house for a while, then went away.

The first body appeared a week after.  The next body appeared a week after that.

By the time she’d figured out that the man she saw that day had been killing these girls, it was too late.  She couldn’t remember a thing about him anymore. He managed to kill another few women before he was caught.

Looking back on the situation, I realised I shouldn’t have been so polite to the man.  I should have been rude.  I should have made a scene.  Thing is, weird creepy strangers who approach lone women often take advantage of societies expectations and social niceties to catch people off guard and to make women (and men) agree to do things that they wouldn’t normally agree to do.  For example, Jill Meagher was taken while walking home by herself and the only footage they could find was of her speaking politely to a man in a blue hoodie.  That blue hooded man raped and killed her, burying her in a shallow grave.

I’ve recently read a book called The Gift of Fear, which I highly recommend.  While a little bit victim blamey in some parts[1], the book does give some very good advice for women when being approached by strangers.  But here’s my take on the situation:

  • If a creepy guy approaches you anywhere and is all weird about it, give yourself permission to be rude and ignore him.
  • If he persists, give yourself permission to make a fuss, shout, scream, yell or bellow “GO AWAY!”, when he approaches you.
  • Get yourself to safety, whether it be at a brightly lit train station, a pub or even simply into the nearest shop.
  • Tell people that you’re being followed by this person.  It’s better to be wrong about people than to be dead.
  • And please, please report it to the police.  Not the day after, but immediately after the incident, while his face is still fresh in your mind.

You might stop someone else from getting hurt later.

The New South Wales police do not take kindly to stalkers or creepy guys harrassing women in general.  The police assistance hotline is 131 444, but the police also have a good resource about protecting yourself from stalkers on their webpage here.

Singapore also has an anti harrassment bill that makes stalking a criminal offence.  You can also contact the police at their hotline on 1800 225 0000 or contact the nearest neighbourhood police centre.

[1] The author of this book apparently grew up in a pretty abusive household, so while most of his advice is sound, some of his personal experiences trickle through. This is most notable in the parts where he sort of says that “It’s your fault if you stay.”. We at Owls Well do not believe that it’s the victim’s fault that they’re in a terrible situation and do not condone this way of thinking.


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