Harassment is not OK

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

When I first moved to Eureka Springs last August, I decided to start walking in the evenings. My larger goal was to upgrade to jogging and then, hopefully, to running.

Having had a gym membership since I was 16, I rather enjoyed exercising outdoors. It was hot, but the air was clear and I didn't have to listen to weightlifters obnoxiously grunt every time they so much as looked at a dumbbell.

I also liked the landscape. The road I live on is wooded to a certain point, where the trees dissipate to reveal most of Eureka Springs. I considered this an incentive to keep going, since it was roughly two miles from my apartment to this sight. I even started enjoying jogging like all those health nuts said I would.

Then I encountered a man I'll call R.W. It was the fourth day that I ventured out. It was rainy but I didn't really care; that just meant that the heat would remain at bay. Because it was colder than normal, I wore long black leggings and a baggy, gray sweatshirt. I met R.W. right before reaching the scenery I so loved.

"How are you?" he asked, stopping me from my run. I paused to talk to him, mostly because I was more than halfway through my jog and pretty exhausted. I told him I was fine but didn't get too much information about myself. After all, he was a stranger.

Once I told him I had been trying to take up jogging, he said something that really freaked me out.

"Yeah, I've seen you around. You look great," he said.

All at once, I felt trapped. We were the only two people on a pretty deserted road, and my boyfriend wasn't even home to come find me if I didn't get home in a reasonable time.

I awkwardly thanked him, slowly backing away. I said goodbye and hoped that was the last I'd see of him, but he stopped me again when I was on my way home to ask me if I was seeing anyone. I told him I was, but that didn't make any difference to him.

"Well, do you like him?" he asked me.

"We live together!" I sputtered out.

At that point, I figured out why he gave me such creepy vibes. I recognized his car. He had seen me around, I realized, because he had been following me the past three days. I hadn't thought anything strange was going on, probably because I'm a little naive and don't expect people to follow me when I'm sweaty and gross.

After that conversation, I started to take notice. He passed me in his car during my next run four times, truly scaring me for maybe the first time in my life. I reported the harassment to the police and, still being followed days after that, took my mother's advice to just exercise in my apartment. I was so angry that I had to do this.

Sure, I could get a gym membership. I could find a different route to run. But I couldn't reason why I should have to change my routine to avoid being followed or, worse, attacked. I can't blame the police for this; they really can't do anything until there's a tangible threat, and I didn't want to stick around for R.W. to truly threaten me.

What makes a person think it's OK to intimidate a young woman the way R.W. did? How is it fair that if he had attacked me, it would have been my fault for not taking better precaution?

It isn't fair at all. I don't like to complain about these things; I consider myself a feminist in that I want equality, but I don't hate or distrust men. Even after this experience, I don't distrust men.

I distrust that man. I hate him for taking away my security. I especially hate that I'm not the first -- and definitely not the last -- woman this has happened to.

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Samantha Jones is a reporter for the Carroll County News.