I was 19 and riding the New York City subway. I changed trains and realized that one man who had been sitting across from me on the last train was in the same car as me again. I thought it must be a coincidence, but as we got closer to the end of the line and the train emptied out, he stayed. When I got off so did he, when I turned a corner so did he, when I ducked into a store he waited. I was on my way to Fort Hamilton to talk to an army recruiter and knew I would be in there a while so hurried there and thought he’d be gone when I came out. An hour later, he was waiting by the gate.
I’m usually a very confident person, but by this point I was scared. I told the guards at the gate what was happening and asked if I could talk with them until he left. They agreed and started telling me war stories. The man who had followed me appeared middle eastern and they made several comments about Arab men not knowing how to treat women like American men do, all while looking almost exclusively at my breasts as they talked. Finally, he left and I made my way back to the subway station.
I pulled out my multi-tool with one of those one inch long knives and held it hidden in my bag while I walked. When I got to the station, I waited by the stairs until I heard a train arrive and leave again. This was the end of the line, so there was only one train line and one direction – if he was on the platform that would have been the one he needed to catch. When I got down the stairs he was still there. He didn’t see me so I ducked behind the staircase and waited there, knife in hand. When the train arrived I ran on and watched the doors until we left the station. I looked over my shoulder the whole way home and spent the rest of my time in NYC worried he might find me. I had no idea when he’d started following me or how much he knew about me.
Until watching Laura Bates’ TED talk, it never occurred to me that that was something I could have (or should have) reported. It clearly never occurred to the guards at the army base either. I thought “he never did anything”, “he never touched me”, so it wasn’t a big deal. But the next day I bought a real knife and haven’t left home without it since.