I had an unpleasant experience on Monday morning during a run. Upon sharing my experience, I came to the unpleasant (though not exactly surprising) realization that it’s far from rare. I don’t think that this is right, but I don’t think it’s going to change anytime soon. It’s for that reason that I decided to write about some of the thoughts and feelings that I had in the event that they help someone else who goes through the same kind of thing.
It was about seven in the morning. I usually run through a quiet, cute neighborhood about a mile away from where I live. People walk their dogs there. Cars give you room when they pass you. I feel safe there. I was coming down a very steep hill when a blue car passed me. It stopped at the bottom of the hill at a stop sign. I didn’t think anything of it when the car lingered, even when the driver’s side door was sitting slightly ajar. I thought maybe he was waiting for someone he was giving a ride to. At that time of morning, I often see people picking up coworkers or dropping people off at bus stops, etc. The car wasn’t moving, so I took my trajectory wide to go around him.
I saw the man get out of his car and for a moment wondered if he needed to pee and had for some reason not seen me. He had his insignificant member in his hand and a huge grin on his face. He turned and began shaking it at me and continued as I ran by. I kept running and ran straight to a house that looked like someone would be home. The house was up a hill and I stopped near the top. The man had returned to his car and was sitting there. I watched through the trees as I called Dean.
He answered, I could hear the car radio in the background, “Hello?”
“A man just waved his dick at me!”
“A man just got out of his car while he was running and shook his dick at me!”
“Did you get the license plate?”
“No, I ran to a house.” I started getting emotional.
“Do you need me to come back?”
I told him not to come back. He encouraged me to call 311 to at least get a report on the guy. I said I didn’t see how it would help since all I had was a location and no license plate and the guy was already gone. He drove off in the opposite direction. I had been thinking that if he passed where I was I could get a picture of the car as he drove by.
I was emotionally upset and didn’t quite know what to do. I took a picture of the intersection so that I would remember the street names and made a post on Facebook venting about it. Then I finished my run. I told myself that I wasn’t going to let this jerk ruin my day and ruin my run. But the run was not fun. While I ran, I considered what would happen if I reported it. I figured that they would tell me there was nothing they could do since I didn’t have a plate number. I also told myself that I wasn’t hurt, I was fine, that worse things were happening to people everywhere and that I should just get over it. I argued with myself that I have the right to run through a neighborhood at seven in the morning without being presented with male private parts. I wondered if I would be chastised if I called for continuing my run. I wondered if I would be asked what I had been wearing. (A tank top and shorts. It’s summer in Tennessee.)
When I got home I was still shaken up. I checked Facebook and there were several comments urging me to report it. One was a friend who was the wife of a police officer. I figured if she was telling me to report it, then I wouldn’t be wasting their time. One that really was the tipping point was a friend who I will now quote, “I’m so sorry…if this ever happens again, please call 911…that is a crime and men who pull crap like that are sometimes wanted for worse. A rapist in our neighborhood was caught years ago doing exactly what you’re describing.”
I flashed back to a time when I was ten or eleven. A friend my same age told me about an incident at the beach where we often played. (Our parents had boats docked at a marina by the beach and we were in earshot there, there were many people during the day, and there was a guard on duty, so we were allowed to go to a certain section on our own.) She had been packing up to leave and a man had laid down near them with no towel, which drew her attention. At she walked by, she noticed his penis was just laying on top of his suit. She thought at first ‘maybe he doesn’t know…’ bear in mind, she was ten or eleven and her sister was much younger. She got off of the beach into the grass and her sister complained that she had stickers in her feet. The man stood up and shook himself at her. She picked up her sister and ran as fast as she could back to the boat. I remember her telling me about this. And I remember my mom talking to my sister and I about it later.
I called 311 before I even showered. I was disturbed and shaken up. What if the next time this man found a teenager or even younger girl running or playing outside?
The man who answered the phone was very nice. I did get emotional while I was describing the incident. He asked if I wanted him to send an officer out to make an official report or if I just wanted them to patrol the area and let me know if they found anything. I was unsettled, uncertain and flustered. He said it was up to me, I was not required to make a report if I didn’t want to. I asked how long it would take because I had to leave at a certain time to get to work. He checked the system and saw that there was only one other call in for the precinct in my area and said that it shouldn’t take long at all and if I needed to leave before they got there, to just call back and cancel and I could make the report another time. I said to send the police officer.
I then took the fastest shower on record (because what if he showed up while I was in the shower?) and attempted to get some normal things done and pack for the day. I kept dropping things. Leaving things in one room while I meant to bring them into another. I was really discombobulated.
When the officer got there, he was very nice. He asked me what happened and I told him. He asked me if I could describe the man. I said he was heavyset, wearing a grey stocking cap, dark eyebrows, tanned skin. He asked me if I could name an ethnicity. I said he could have been a tanned white dude, he could have been Mexican or Arabic or Indian. He asked me if I could describe the car. I said yes, it was a bright blue. He asked if it was a full or compact. I said full sized. He said great. He asked if there were any stickers or any discernible damage. I said no, it was a very clean car. In fact, I had been kind of thinking that it was a nice car.
He said that this man had been making the rounds and I was not the first to report him. But I was the first to be able to describe the car. He said up until this point they had very little to go on, but now they had a vehicle description. He said detectives may want to call and talk to me later and confirmed the best number to reach me. He then gave me a copy of my report number with phone numbers to call if I remembered anything else.
I ended up being late to work that day (because I got a flat tire on my bike in addition to everything else) and ended up having to talk about my morning to a few people at work and ended up talking about it to people at the bike shop as well. Many of the women I talked to had a story that was similar that that happened to them at some point. A lot of them didn’t report it because they ‘just wanted to get away’ or were very young and confused. Some of them probably had the same concerns that I had about being judged, not being taken seriously or wasting the police’s time.
I’m glad I reported it. I felt MUCH better emotionally afterward. I was taken seriously and treated kindly. I was also told that I did the right thing in running straight for a house. No one told me I should have tried to confront the man or tried to follow him and get a picture. (These were other concerns that I had in my head, “aren’t you a black belt? why didn’t you do something?”) I may start running with a taser in the future.
I decided to write this out in case it happens to someone else. Report it as soon as you feel up to it. And be kind to yourself if you are shaken up for a few days afterward. There is nothing wrong with YOU. There is something wrong with HIM. It may take a few days to feel safe and like yourself and you may be sad/angry/etc for a while afterward. Talk about it with friends if you can and don’t let that jerk take joy away from you or anyone else.