Friday, September 10, 2010

Mom was right... again.

As a woman, I've been fortunate in many ways. I was born at a point where I have benefited from the hard work of the women who pioneered the feminist movement. On a personal level, (most of) the men in my life have been nothing but supportive.

My pursuit of a stellar professional career was a given for my father. He would have it no other way. In fact, he still harbors delusions of my earning a Nobel prize or a Supreme Court appointment (no problem Dad)!


I have had problems seeing eye to eye with certain guys on the issue of violence against women. One of the biggest fights I had with my first (ex) boyfriend was about my "paranoia" regarding walking alone in a dark parking structure, at night. I argued that this was anything but paranoia and being an adult male, he could not possibly understand concern about sexual assault. He (condescendingly) argued that we lived in a safe area and I was being ridiculous.

He was wrong.

A couple of years after this (infuriating) conversation, I was walking alone at night to meet up with a friend in the safe city of La Jolla. As I was walking across my apartment complex to meet up with her, a man came out of the shadows. He yelled, in a cold voice I will never forget, "what the hell are you doing?!" I took one look at his cruel, terrifying face and started to walk away. Quickly.

He followed me.

I yelled out to my friend and once I reached her, I was lucky that he stopped pursuing me. As we walked towards the main road, I looked back. He was just standing there. Staring at us.

Not a big incident, right? But I wonder what would have happened if I was alone. I had an instinctively terrible feeling the moment I made eye contact with him. I was shaken, but also angry. How dare he make me feel unsafe near my own home! I was sure that my instincts about him were correct. I decided to look him up.

California has passed laws (collectively called Megan's law) which require authorities to make information about registered sex offenders available to the public. I went online and found the website where you can find registered sex offenders in your neighborhood. With pictures.

Sure enough, in no time at all, I stared back at the face of the man who followed me (6ft, 200 lbs). Apparently one conviction for sexual assault was not enough.

That year, again in safe La Jolla, a woman was tackled between two cars and raped. By the library on campus. At 8pm. In summer when it was still light outside.

Nobody was around. So much for "safe" areas.

The point of my post is not to make women feel like victims, but to make them aware of what can happen even in places that are considered very safe. Don't let fear rule your life, but remember common sense (i.e. my mother's) advice:
  • Be aware of your general surroundings at all times.
  • Don't take a cab alone at night (if possible).
  • Carry pepper spray.
  • Avoid walking alone at night (unlike me).
  • Don't give rides to strangers. Even well dressed/handsome ones (horrible case emailed curtesy of my mom).
  • Watch out for your friends, especially at parties or clubs.
As for the ex-boyfriend... luckily now I met someone who buys me pepper spray on his own initiative (brownie points with mom too!), rather than talks down to me for worrying about my safety. It's not that I want men to be super protective, I just appreciate the fact that he takes my concerns seriously.

While Megan's law is a very helpful tool, I hope that the California legislation will continue to pass laws that combat violence against women. Even simple fixes such as more street light in cities (Davis!!) helps reduce this type of crime.

Hopefully with more education and better legislation, women will have less to worry about in the future.


Kate said...

Even simple fixes such as more street light in cities (Davis!!) helps reduce this type of crime.

Growing up in Davis, I always assumed the lack of lighting was normal and it wasn't until my visiting aunt expressed surprise at how dark everything was that I realized other places were different.

In class on Friday, we talked about the ways in which feminism has benefited men by, for example, changing sexist stereotypes about who gets alimony, child custody, and employment benefits. I think the safety issue is another area in which feminism can help men.

Men certainly don't run the same risk of sexual assault as women do (although it happens), but they certainly run the risk of being mugged and these "simple fixes" could help their well-being, too. Dismissing women's legitimate concerns about safety as "paranoia" is not only sexist but self-defeating.

Betty said...

I do think that extra precautions should be taken amongst the female population, as well. I'd only made this realization, personally for myself, very recently, because just like you - I've grown up with very supportive male figures in my life and have felt nothing but loved, protected, and cared for by them (save for the one shining exception of an ex-boyfriend - those are great, aren't they?) It's conditioned me to feel empowered and almost invincible at times, even when going out in public by myself late at night where I've had to walk to my car by myself at 2am. I wonder if another question or concern to be raised is if, unfortunately, women who've been treated well and grown up in non-abusive environments either come to expect the protection at all times to the point where they're super cautious otherwise, or if on the other end of the spectrum, the men who have protected and raised them all along have created and nurtured a powerful, self-sustaining woman who is fearless, and which one is more preferred? Which one is more dangerous?

N.P. said...

This is a scary situation that does affect many women. One interesting observation I've had is the difference in living in cities compared to living in a more suburban area. I'm not sure if this is my personal feeling or whether this is true for others, but I find that living in a city tends to instill some sort of "I will be fine and there is nothing to worry about since there are people around." While this is true to a certain extent, I find that in cities, there is a tendency to ignore any forms of assault that goes on or perhaps an inability to recognize that such assault occurs. There have been instances in New York, where people are beaten or dying on the subway and people ignore the situation. While there is this sort of complacency in more suburban areas as well, I think that because you aren't inundated with so many images all the time there is a greater ability to prevent and promote safety for women. I'm just not sure how this could be furthered in a big city - my solution was to buy mace. Which luckily I haven't used yet.

Bijorn Turock said...

I agree with NP that there is this feeling of safety when you are in a city, because you feel that there are just too many people around for anyone to even think about committing any act of assault. However, I think that this line of thinking actually works to our determent as it may close our minds to the possibility of having to deal with dangerous situations, making us less alert. Additionally, I feel that city life has conditioned us to be passive when it comes to helping someone in distress. We simply don’t want to deal with it. This may have to do with the fact that we, either subconsciously or consciously, believe that someone else will eventually deal with it, which ends up resulting in no help at all. I remember reading a case about a woman who was raped in front of an apartment building, where many of the tenants witnessed the incident, but none of them did anything to help her. It’s just terrible how not having a legal duty to act in these instances can really hurt people. Perhaps as a matter of public policy we should expect from the citizenry to have such a duty.

Alcestis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alcestis said...

Women or not, we should all watch out.

Your story sounds all too familiar, except I had this wonderful yelling debate with a male co-worker who lived two blocks away from me. We had just finished watching a scary movie, maybe that added to my "paranoia," and I asked him to walk me home. It was snowing and 2 AM, and he refused. I brought up every worst case scenario possible and begged him to throw on his boots and walk the 40 steps to my house (he was 6'5" it probably only took him 40 steps). Like your ex, he told me I was being "paranoid" and that we lived in a "safe neighborhood" with all the other D.C. yuppies.

After a few more minutes of embarrassing pleading, I left by myself and ran home, with eyes open and ears alert for any surprises. That night I got home safely.

Unfortunately for my co-worker, who felt we lived in one of the safest neighborhoods, he was robbed at gun point in the middle of the day. Two weeks after his incident my roommate, also a male, was jumped and robbed, walking home at 8 PM at night.

Reading your post got me thinking, maybe our caution makes us less susceptible to attacks and males are more likely to attacks since their guards are down?

While precautions should be taken by women to protect ourselves against sexual violence, men should be warned too. Being too comfortable in your surroundings and not "paranoid" can be a bad thing.

Yazzyjazzy said...

I totally agree, and something needs to be done to ensure safety AND peace of mind for women walking alone in the streets!

This summer, I worked in San Francisco in the Tenderloin. I took BART and then walked ten minutes to my office, and for ten weeks feared for my life each way. I was a small girl, freezing and in uncomfortable shoes...a pretty easy target.

Drug use is rampant on the streets leading to the office, causing users to do some weird and dangerous things to passerbys. I was approached almost every day, sometimes angrily, for money by men that were a lot bigger than me. I was also approached and followed by people several times throughout the summer. So scary!

I always took safety precautions: I tried to walk with other people to the BART station, I didn't stay late in San Francisco, I walked fast and didn't talk to strangers. But still, I thought there really should be something done to ensure the safety of women in these streets. Had I been attacked, there would be very little I could do. I think this is definitely an area in which implementing or changing laws for more safety precautions (more street lights or police officers in dangerous areas) will promote safety and peace of mind.

Rebecca said...

Below is a link that I think all students should read regarless of whether you are a female or male.

The sad fact remains that most sexual assaults associated with college campuses go unreported. When they do get reported, they are sent to panels that are peer review types that have a poor history of adequate dicipline.