I doubt there is a woman alive who hasn’t at some point in her life had to endure unwanted attention from a man while walking down the street minding her own business. Growing up in Chicago, street harassment was almost as normal as breathing and over the years I developed a number of coping strategies, namely walking fast and ignoring. Granted there were times when these strategies didn’t work as well and some of the more tense moments of street harassment occurred when walking down the street in the company of a white man and running across a group of Black men. Early on in our marriage, the Spousal Unit and I were confronted by a group of downright hostile Black men who clearly found the sight of us disturbing, thankfully the man stood his ground (no shots fired either!) and we escaped unharmed.
One of the interesting things in my decade of living in Maine had been I thought I had escaped street harassment, emphasis on thought. Yet it seems not only have I not escaped it but that it might be far scarier than anything I ever encountered back home in Chicago or in any of my travels.
Last month, I wrote this post, which for anyone not interested in clicking, basically how there is a mentally ill man in my town who seemed fixated on me whenever he crosses my path. For a couple of years now, like most in this town, I had seen this man as a symbol of what happens when the safety net for those suffering with mental illness is shredded. A minor nuisance but nothing to worry about, that was until an encounter last month that left me shaking and nervous for damn near an hour.
After thinking it over, I decided to contact the local police department. Initially my complaint wasn’t taken seriously; in fact I was told there was nothing they could do as this man had not broken any laws. I wasn’t even allowed to file a complaint; needless to say I was heated. So I put on my professional hat and contacted the police chief directly who did meet with me after realizing I was not a random Black woman (that’s another story for another time, what if I wasn’t a known writer and executive at a known non-profit? Guess I would be shit out of luck) and that’s where the story gets interesting.
This man is a pain in the ass who despite being well known to the cops for mostly minor violations was accused a few years ago of trying to kidnap a kid. In the end the case was dropped after it was determined that the complainants had not been completely truthful and because this man does suffer from mental illness the cops have been fearful of coming across as discriminating against him because of his illness. They also appear fearful of having another case against him with holes.
Well long story short, the police department had been looking for this man after my meeting with the police chief and others in the local police department earlier this week. Like a bad penny, he showed up yesterday and that’s where it gets good. Initially under questioning by the chief himself (considering we have 30+ officers even in this little hamlet, I admit I was glad the chief handled this himself) the man as I call him denied he knew who I was but did eventually admit that he knew who I was. When asked if he was harassing me, he told the police chief that he wasn’t harassing me but that he was complimenting me with his actions. Actions that include coming up to my car staring at me, following me, referring to me as Michelle Obama and basically creeping me the fuck out. Actions that in recent months have had an overt sexual nature to them and made me wonder if there was more going on and frankly wondering if I might be in danger.
Without getting into the legalese portion, I will say the cops didn’t expect this man to be so forthright in his response and are now looking at going by the book which now includes an informal warning to stay away from me and will continue from there. Clearly this is a small town and complete avoidance is hard to do as evidenced by the fact the family and I were out today and who did we see? He stayed on the other side of the street but not before we were treated to a pole dance by him. Yep he proceeded to hump a street light in view of my husband and daughter!
To say I am shook up is an understatement and a tad scared, after all I am not with my husband and son every minute of the day when I am outside of my house. Also due to nature of my work and the fact that this place is small, finding me is not hard. However I refuse to back down and be put in a box of fear. I admit I am kicking myself a bit for not trusting my instincts months ago when it first dawned on me that my interactions with this man had crossed a line but it’s too late to kick myself. I admit the police department unnerved me when they told me many people complain about this guy but few want to go to court to deal with this man. I suspect that his documented mental illness complicates matters since siccing the law on a man with issues feels wrong but it’s been my opinion that his condition does not cancel out the fact that he seems to know right from wrong, a sentiment echoed by the police department.
Street harassment is a violation under the best of circumstances, in this case where we have clearly crossed the line from random harassment to targeted harassment it feels even worse. I feel vulnerable and violated.
Some many wonder why I am blogging about this especially now that it almost certainly is going to become a legal matter and the reason is I have done nothing wrong. I have a voice and I will use it, also to say trust your instincts no matter what.