sexual assault · women

Just Another Woman’s Story

Image result for wolfe's neck

When I was in my early 20s, my mother and I went for a walk along my favorite nature trail near Wolfe’s Neck off the coast of Freeport. For years I would hike this same path by myself. I loved nothing more than to feel the sea breeze on my face and smell the salt air as I hiked the winding trails along the ocean.

We pulled into the parking lot that autumn day and I immediately noticed a man with dark hair pull into the spot next to us. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, but for whatever reason, I brushed off this feeling. There were other people scattered around, what could happen?

We trekked along deeper into the woods toward the glittering sea in the distance, the tall pines and birch trees hugging the sides of the path. Another typical crisp autumn day. Soon we heard soft footsteps behind us. I turned and the man with the dark hair jogged by us in silence. My mom and I continued our chattering, not paying much attention to what was waiting around the bend. Suddenly, the man was standing in the trail facing us and holding his shorts in his hands. We froze. My heart stopped. He lifted up his hands and exposed himself. “Hi ladies, what time is it?”

At first I was shocked, my mind wouldn’t compute — this can’t be happening!  Then a million thoughts flooded my mind. We are all alone out in the woods with this guy! What is he going to do? What if he has a knife or a gun? Is he going to kill us? Is he going to rape us? Should I yell? Should I scream? Holy shit is he really standing there naked in front of us? Is this some kind of joke? Am I seeing things?

My mom — god love her — actually had the courage to say something back. She straightened up, stared directly at him and laughed, “I think time is the least of your problems, buddy.” This threw him off, as he slunk back into the bushes and disappeared. I was shaking like a leaf. My heart was exploding out of my chest. Not only was this the most disturbing thing to witness (and in front of my own mother)) but now, we had to make our way back to the parking lot in the other direction for fear he would pop out of the woods again and do god knows what. Longest walk of my life. (This was before cell phones, so we had no way to notify anyone of what had just happened.)

We finally looped around the entire park and reached the gate. I had to describe our story to the man stationed there. He called the police and I had to detail my humiliating story all over again to him.

Turns out, this man had done this many times up and down the coast on different trails to random women and young girls. Yes, he never actually did anything physical. Yes, he was finally caught and arrested. Yes, I can laugh a little about how absurd the whole thing was now.

And yes — this single harmless experience caused me to never, ever walk on that trail or any other trail outside again for years. This man, because of his depraved urge, took away my sense of safety, my god-given right to freely walk and enjoy the outdoors, something that I adore immensely.

To this day, I carry pepper spray when I walk alone. I hold it in my clenched fist, ready to spray the shit out of any man who jumps out of the nearest tree. I constantly look everywhere, I’m always aware of my surroundings, because hey, that man over there might do something or that guy over there might say something or hey, I might be abducted, raped or murdered.

To men — most of you have no goddamned idea what this is like.

And I wasn’t even physically touched. I wasn’t raped or sexually abused or attacked. Imagine what it’s like for a woman who was. The fear, anxiety and soul-crushing torture of shame and guilt she faces the rest of her life. The rest of her life! It will color and shape everything she thinks or feels or believes for years to come. It never really goes away. Never. No amount of therapy or alcohol or drugs will stamp out that memory that is seared onto her soul. She can overcome it, yes. But she will never forget it.

Sadly — but not surprisingly — since the creepy man on the trail,  I’ve experienced sexual harassment at work from my boss, unwanted groping from strangers, and general leering and verbal abuse many, many times from men*. The sexual harassment at work only five years ago sent me into a tailspin of nonstop anxiety attacks that put me on anti-anxiety meds for 2 years. Of course, I quit the job — I had to. No amount of money in my paycheck matters. Even now, years later, the mere chance of me running into this asshole randomly when I’m in the same town sends me into the nearest bathroom stall hyperventilating with full-blown panic attacks.

And I wasn’t even raped. I’m one of the “lucky” ones.

Hopefully, my own daughter will be “lucky”, too. And that’s sad as hell.

_____________________________
This post is inspired by fellow blogger, Jess.
You can read her post here What it’s Like to be a Woman in America

*Note: I do realize not all men are like this, some always treat women with dignity and respect and if you are one of those men, kudos to you.

 

 

 

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67 thoughts on “Just Another Woman’s Story

  1. Powerful, Darla. And scary., and you’re right, you never forget those “times” when someone violats your space and soul with their depravity. I have a few experiences. Lucky, like you, I was not abducted or killed or violently raped. And there are many good men in the world; too bad the bad apples change our world view and cause us worry instead of joy in mother nature. xoxo

  2. Well-written Darla. You’ve hit on the part that people don’t seem to get. It’s not just some incident you can “put behind you,” it’s about the psychological effects that haunt you afterward. You loved trail hiking but because this loony stole your sense of safety, you “couldn’t walk on that trail or any other trail again for years.” It is certainly not fun or relaxing to stroll past the ocean and trees clutching your pepper spray and having to remain 100% alert to your surroundings. They have ruined your enjoyment of a once-loved activity. I did love your mother’s response… her laugh and the remark about what time it was being the least of his problems. If only she’d been carrying the grocery sack with the eggs in it! Sorry for your troubles and glad you are coping. Thanks for sharing your story. 🙂

  3. Bloody hell, I’m so pissed off to witness yet another woman telling her story of being harassed by a man. Well-written, and thank you for sharing your vulnerability and ongoing stress. We all have it don’t we? In fact, I just wrote this recently about my walk on the beach:
    https://boneandsilver.com/2018/07/06/damn-you-solo-beach-walker/
    Your Mum sounds like a legend! And I can’t believe how women in America must be feeling in the light of all this Supreme Court fiasco, especially those, as you say, who have actually been physically violated. TIMESUP indeed. Blessings on you and your Mum, in heartfelt solidarity from here in Australia, G ❤

  4. It sucks to lose our joyful, innocent freedom. It sucks for decades, sometimes; and each new breach steals a little bit more. It’s not right. It’s not fair. I’m sorry we’ve all experienced such theft, even if it wasn’t the full rape we all feared.

      1. Until it’s better, all we can do is give them tools to deal with the possibilities, and even that is sad, because as you say (more nicely), most guys in all our circles aren’t skeevy maladjusts (and aren’t the enablers of those).

    1. Exactly. To see that judge at the hearing cry like a baby about how this has affected him and destroyed his family…what about the women you have so casually abused for kicks and their families? And Bill Cosby and his “oh poor me” stance. Here’s a thought: STOP ABUSING WOMEN and that won’t happen, will it? (sorry, I just get so mad I have to type in all caps…)

  5. This. Exactly this. And most men, even good ones, cannot grasp what this is like. And the sad part is when we try to tell them we’re told we hate them. And just like that, the conversation is so easily swayed in the direction of us comforting men’s feelings all over again. Maybe they should ask why they’re uncomfortable in the first place. I

    It’s exhausting, but I haven’t lost hope. I am a strong, and so are you. I believe you, support you, understand you, and am championing you all the way!

    1. Yes, most men will never get what we face on a daily basis. My husband can go for a jog and never give his safety a second thought. And why is it that when we ask for the same basic human rights as men, they immediately say we must hate all men? Exasperating! Of course, not all men are like this! My dad, my brothers, my husband, my son are all respectful toward all women.

      The other thing that burns me up? The claim that women are “making it up” to get back at men. Why, for the love of god, would anyone put themselves through all this shit just for fun? Yes, I’m sure 60 plus women all got together over coffee one day and said, “Hey, let’s destroy Bill Cosby for the shits and giggles! Yeah! It’ll be a hoot!”

      I haven’t lost hope, either. As long as we all keep screaming our stories and holding men accountable, things will change eventually. Hopefully in my lifetime! Thanks, Jess, for sharing your stories, really inspired me!

  6. I have never had this full monty-show – but when I was a teenager, still (19), and I was new to this town, I was with a fellow student in the subway below the mainstation. A very busy station. And there was a man in his trench, and you could see that he was having some solo-sex – without showing his weiner, still weird.

    I got groped once by my elderly neighbour when I was in my early twenties, and I showed an aggressive response (not sure if I just slapped his hand or hit him in the face). And I had to live next to him for several years …

    I would never carry pepper-spray. Far better to rely on myself, know where it hurts a person if you attack – like kicking on the shin (do not go for the balls, that is the best guarded region) and simultaneously going for the eyes with two fingers. To blind a man or make it impossible for him to run after you by maiming him. I cannot run away, fat as I am. Pepper spray is a false sense of security. Most users of pepper spray hurt themselves more than the attacker. I leave pepper spray to the professionals (and even those prefer a taser and only use pepper spray against dogs).

    The eeriest encounter was a man who was following me through my part of town at night. I was returning home after cooking with friends, about 10 pm. It was dark and I heard footsteps behind me. When I changed the side of the street (oh the things, women do) the footsteps did so, too. When I went round a corner and another, the footsteps did so, too … When I realized that and the man who belonged to them, I did not run. I turned around, went past him and slapped my forehead as if I had forgotten something. I went right past him, he could have grabbed me. The look on his face as he saw me – priceless. It pays to be ugly … Or maybe he was just too shocked that I did dare to come up to him. Later I heard that there was a serial rapist in my part of town who followed women and shoved women into the hall of the appartment houses they lived in where he raped them. It might have been me that evening.

    This is indeed something that men cannot get:
    Margaret Atwood — ‘Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.’

    1. That quote says it all. I once had a college roommate who didn’t carry pepper spray, either. She had this little plastic key chain device that had this easy-open top that would pop off to reveal a very tiny but very sharp knife. I would carry a gun, but I don’t believe in guns in general so that’s out. Maybe a big heavy baseball bat? That might do the trick! I did take a self-defense class about 20 years ago. I know a good elbow to the throat works wonders.

  7. Thanks so much for sharing this incident. All men should know that even if they haven’t been told of it, we all indeed know of many who have lived through such traumas. Once our innocence is destroyed it can never be regained. And maybe that’s the way it should be, because in this world, unfortunately, you do need that pepper spray.

  8. I am SO happy you brought back this story in a more serious light to introduce ones that happened recently – and I realize “happy” is a poor choice. I am giving you a standing ovation. Although I’m only clapping with one hand because of the pepper spray in the other.

  9. I realize I’m in the minority of women who have never been sexually harassed or assaulted, but sadly the percentage of us is getting smaller every day. So many of these horrible events go unreported , and with the way women are treated when they do come forward it’s really not surprising. The event may be short lived but the trauma is not.
    I’m very sorry that awful man ruined Wolfe’s Neck for you… it really is a lovely spot.

  10. My heart lurched reading this and can feel the sadness, rage and disbelief of all you’ve had to change because of that one creepy guy. Been there.

    Now, as a Grandmother, my spidey senses are on FIRE when out with our grandkids – both our grandSON and grandDAUGHTER — I watch and am aware who is around us in Target, if one of them want to step an aisle away to “just see one thing..” I go with them, not up for discussion. My son’s ex-wife posts their pictures & school name on her FB (with privacy settings set to Public b/c she’s a G.D. idiot) and I shudder.

    Like you, I know many fine men – my Dad, brothers, husband and sons. But I also have known some creeps, and the creeps taint the well for the rest of them.

    Hard hitting post, Darla. Thank you for writing it,

    MJ

    1. It’s so hard to balance being hyper aware of your surroundings and letting go that constant fear and just let our kids and grand kids be, y’know? My daughter is almost 12 and I do keep a watchful eye on her in public places. I will not let her walk alone around the neighborhood (like I used to do at a very young age). This world in general has gone to hell in a hand basket. The only hope is with each generation we teach our sons and grandsons the right and proper way to behave with any human being, man or woman.

  11. I’ve had similar experiences and worse ones. I won’t go into the latter as I’m through with talking about it, but yes – it marrs the rest of your life, the reason being that you start doubting yourself when you don’t actually need to do so – but that makes no difference as everything gets internalised.

    Thankfully there are good men in the world, otherwise life would be pretty unbearable.

    1. Sorry you’ve had to endure these things, Val. When I was sexually harassed at work, I truly doubted myself, I felt like maybe I was imagining things, or overreacting. Then I realized, no! your boss isn’t supposed to put his hand on your inner thigh or rub your shoulders at work. I mean, the way we tend to rationalize this behavior is ridiculous.

  12. Well, written, Darla. This Churns up memories of a teenager in my neighborhood who would pull down his shorts and expose himself as I left for work. Police said they couldn’t do a thing until they caught him in the act. He was random in his exposures and absent from view until the last second. At least I was inside a car.
    One night I’d turned out the light to go to bed, but paused to lift a slat on the blind to see the moonlight.
    There he was. Inches away, staring through my window.
    I installed alarms and then sold the place. Drastic, yes, but I couldn’t take the increasing encroachment.
    That memory is 40 years old, yet my heart still whips furiously anytime I peek out the window at night. I too was one of the lucky ones.
    Headlines in our Portland newspaper indicate the counseling on the rape crisis line has increased 400% with the recent judicial hearings.
    The memories live in us for a lifetime.

    1. That is so scary and I would have done the same thing, Barb. I just want to know why–why do certain men feel compelled to do these things? My husband seems to think it’s a control or power thing, and I tend to think so too or they were abused themselves. But for hundreds and hundreds of years women have been subjected to this demeaning behavior and I hope and pray someday things will change.

  13. This is quite a topical post and as a man with a wife, daughter, two granddaughters and a sister-in-law, I think often about how easy it would be for them to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Glad your experience was not direct physical assault but there is certainly lasting trauma nonetheless.

    P.S. On a lighter note, and just for the record, I have never been to Wolfe’s Neck trail.

  14. I’m so sorry you experienced this. It makes me furious that your enjoyment was tainted like that.

    I had something similar happen when I was a child on my way to school. But I was so young, I didn’t really understand what the guy standing on the corner was doing until I had nonchalantly walked past him and was halfway down the block. I can’t say it really haunted me though, maybe because I was too naive to “get” what it meant or fear for what might have happened.

    I love to walk in the woods – it’s a passion. I always carry my pepper spray. And I am in equal parts mad and sad when I start out on a solitary walk, realize there isn’t anyone else around, and turn back 10 minutes into the hike because of my feelings of fear and vulnerability. Last year I learned to shoot and bought a gun, specifically for this reason. But I can’t bring myself to carry it. Damn.

    1. I hear you. There is nothing I enjoy more than walking alone! It was my therapy (and still is).

      My cousin posted this interesting speech a man gave to a crowd once. He asked, “What do you do to protect yourself from a possible sexual assault every day?” Then he had only the men answer. One guy rose his hand and said he doesn’t do anything. Then he asked the women, and of course, there were dozens of things we all do every single day: from walking with someone, carrying mace, crossing the street when you see a man, etc. It really is so sad we have to live like that.

  15. You’re right, I can’t really relate to your experience. In those couple of cases where I was uncomfortable with a woman coming on to me, I never felt like I was in any kind of physical danger. And although having been mugged about 4 or 5 times just in my last year of high school, I’m wary of walking side streets at night in certain neighborhoods, I still don’t even consider the possibility of any assault being sexual.

    1. Good point. My husband was actually sexually harassed at his job years ago by a female supervisor and while he was very unnerved and creeped out by the whole thing, (and he reported it to HR), he was never really scared for his physical safety.

  16. Sigh. It is so very sad that we need to think about these issues.

    I walk in the woods daily, with my dog. While he is overly friendly, he is big and nobody would mess with him. He would probably be useless as a penis biter, but I still feel secure. I also carry a stick (mostly to get through spider webs). Still, I look, I worry, and I am aware of my surroundings.

    It sucks, though. We shouldn’t have to worry.

    I do love your mother, Darla!

  17. You gotta love Moms. My Mom told me that if something like this ever happened to me, I should point and laugh. Now, after reading this and thinking about her advise, I wonder WHY she told me this.

    And, years later, being a model, and a nude model at that, and having been around thousands of nude people at a crack (and that’s not a crack), I have run into my fair share of…. pervs. *sigh* One of the best stories I have is from another gentleman on a nude cruise who, in his description of another man in the nightclub one night said, “Hey! How’s it going?! I see you’re at about a 9 right now and what I need you to do is bring it down to about a 4. Can you do that? If not – you have to leave the nightclub.”

    Said “9” quickly exited the dance floor.

    I told that story so I could say… I still don’t know if I want to tell the world all that I have experienced regarding the #MeToo movement, because, as Jess Witkins has said, “it’s none of their damn business”. I’ve see a lot and experienced a lot and all from an early age. I wish that we girls were told to kick boys in the nuts instead of smile and be polite. I wish we were told to tell lecherous men that they were “gross and creepy” instead of smiling and being polite.

    I might be a nude model, but honestly, that is a venue in which I have the LEAST amount of worry (though I worry FAR more about sunscreen… cause allergies).

    I think we’re experiencing a huge shift in society, and we’re right now on the edge of a tsunami wave.

    At least, I hope so.

    1. “Bring it down to about a 4”–that is quite a story. Yikes!

      I can completely understand why some of us do not want to tell others what happened, as it’s an incredibly personal thing. I have other things that have happened that I didn’t go into here on this blog. No where near what other women have suffered, though!

      I also think as long as men start to realize that — yes, we will make our voices heard and no, this is not acceptable behavior and you will be held accountable — things will change. It might be a long road but I think women will choose silence less and less and find the strength to stand up for themselves.

  18. I’m sorry to read this. It’s the shame of my gender. How did this genetic flaw come to exist? You would think that through evolution this behavior would’ve been bred out of us by now. It serves no useful purpose. Instead, men seem to pass it on to their sons. There’s no end to it. I used to date a girl who said men exposed themselves to her on the subway *all the time.* I worry about my poor little daughters. How am I supposed to protect them? But the helplessness I feel is a small fraction of what abused women suffer. It’s all so grim.

    1. It isn’t “your gender,” and you don’t have to feel guilty about the sins of others. These people are selfish sociopaths. Keep them seperate please, I have brothers and a son.

    2. Same questions I have, Mark. I asked my husband the other day (in a somewhat accusatory tone, I’m afraid to admit because I had just watched the senate hearing and was still hella pissed…) “What the hell is wrong with you guys? I mean, can’t you just keep it together when around women? Is this some kind of urge you can’t control? Do you guys actually think women LIKE this or want this abuse??” Of course, he’s just as dumbfounded as I am when it comes to this behavior. And being a dad of a young daughter, he has his work cut out for him. His first sentence to her first date will be: “I won’t mind going back to prison if I have to…”

  19. I was exposed to three times in my life, the first time I was 9 years old and on my way to Mass with two other girls in a quiet area. I was also called over to a car by a man in the very same area soon after “asking for directions,” but I had the sense to run my ass off in the other direction. Another time I was walking along a busy avenue, and a man was masterbating in his car on the passenger side, so he could be seen (by me), at the age of 16. The final time, I was waiting for a friend in the lobby of Whitehead Hall in Brooklyn College, CUNY, it was 1982. I was taking a night class during the fall semester, and it was about 8:00 at night, and dark outside. The men and (some) women who were accounting students were pouring into the building and heading up the stairs to their classrooms. I began to read the NY Times in a desk that was up agains the wall in the lobby. I happened to look up after about 10 minutes and a man in a suit was masterbating in front of me. I cursed and threw the NY Times at him and ran to get the security guard at the gate, but of couse the perv was safely sitting in his accounting class by then. These experiences have made me less naive when walking alone, or even with someone. I am very aware of my surroundings at all times, but you know, right now I am pissed.

  20. nice writings…m on the same boat….dear friend…i learnt one thing…trauma will never go ,, shock is still alive for me too….!!

  21. I too am one of the “lucky” ones who have endured “only” sexual harassment and uncomfortable physical contact. In junior high, I did have a classmate in my very small Christian school get sexually abused by our principal and even after 17 years, it still affects my thinking. I remember being uncomfortable around older men in leadership in our church for years wondering if they were going to do the same to me, and it gave me significant anxiety for years after he was arrested and then later released because the parents chose not to press charges. (!!!!!!) I definitely am careful even as an adult and if my gut tells me some guy is creepy, I am on high alert. It sucks.

    1. Oh, that is just terrible. It really is tragic what happens to so many people. And we never even hear about most of these because the victim is scared to death to come forward. The only good thing I also have pretty accurate “creep radar”. If I’m uncomfortable around someone, I make sure never to be alone with that someone.

  22. I can truly relate this story to myself. I was very young i guess 12 or 13 when that happened to me and i sowed that into my chest because i had no words to describe the situation. It took me so long just to overcome that 30seconds of my life. That kind of men has no idea about how their shameful act can effect a girls mind

  23. My daughter, who has just entered the workforce, has already endured numerous harassment moments and she is only 3 years into her career. It’s disgusting! She came home one day this summer to tell me a homeless man looked up her dress and gave her 2 thumbs up. She hasn’t worn a dress since. With all of the changes we’ve endured in our lifetime, why the F does this continue?

  24. When you are walking on a hiking trail with your mom or whomever the fears in my mind that stick out are snakes, bears, and mountain lions! That’s what the fears should be and maybe even running into poison ivy! It’s sad that now in the world we are living in that we have to be afraid of people that maybe wandering on that same trail. We have to be very aware of our surroundings because you never know who could grab you, rape you, or murder you! In the world you and I are living in we aren’t safe anywhere! It’s really terribly sad! I do feel bad for our kids having to experience it.

  25. This is definitely not just another ‘harmless’ experience. It’s sad that the world we are living in is not perfect and dangerous for those who are vulnerable. Thank you for sharing your story. Its an important reminder to women out there to always be aware of their surroundings and take care of themselves. Hopefully, other people, especially children will not have to encounter or go through you’ve been and if they did, they will know what to do. Your story means a lot to us.

    Think Before You Wink is a non-profit group created by students to educate the Sydney public about ethical practices at the workplace and common courtesy. Feel feel to visit our page to support our cause against sexual harassment

    RB

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