Trust Your Instincts!

PilarAlbisu
Posted December 5, 2016 from Canada

A few days ago, I had what I believe was my first truly frightening encounter with gender-based violence. Don't get me wrong, I have not been immune to the more subtle ways that gender-based violence manifests itself in my everyday life: it bombards me in advertising, from clothing to cars; I have experienced it in the unwanted looks or catcalls as I walk down the streets; I have had had to ward off unsolicited advances from men at clubs when dancing in a group of girls.

But never before had I ever truly been afraid for my safety. Until a few days ago. I am currently living and teaching in a small town in the north of France. Last week, as I returned home from a friend's house, I realized I had forgotten my purse (with my house keys and cellphone) at her place. It's important to mention that this particular town has the policy of shutting off all street lights that are not strictly in the city center (which is comprised of three or four streets). Therefore, at 11:00 pm, most of the streets in the town are pitch black.

I had walked home with another friend, but when I realized I had forgotten my keys, I insisted to this friend that I had no problem going back for them on my own. She offered repeatedly to come with me, but I insisted that if I took her bike, I'd be quicker and back before we knew it. Begrudgingly, she let me take her bike and ride the 10 or so blocks to our other friend's house.

At this point, it was past 11 pm and most of the lights in town were off. Even as I left, I didn't want to admit to myself that I was scared. Everything was fine until I passed through the city center and noticed a man entering his car. We made eye contact and once I passed him, he sped up and passed me. I didn't think much of it until, just before entering the dark streets on the outskirts, I noticed that this same car was now somehow behind me. At this point, I entered the darkest, longest street and I was very much afraid. However, it only got worse as I noticed the car follow me and then drive up ahead and pull over on the side of the street. At this moment, I was so afraid for my safety that I pedalled as hard and fast as I could and made it out of the dark street to my friend's place.

After I met her at the gate and she gave me my things, I mentioned that I thought someone was following me. In retrospect, I realize that I should have stayed over at her place. I was terrified of biking back home. But, I pretended to be brave and I insisted that enough time had passed and that the car was now probably gone. But it wasn't. On the way back, as I was riding down the dark street once again, the car was still on the street, headlights on. Once again, I pedalled as fast as I could, but felt a cold fear grip me the moment I passed the car and heard it start its engine.

I cannot explain the amount of things that ran through my mind: Was he planning to turn around and follow me? Hit my bike, perhaps? Maybe just cut me off? I had no idea, all I knew was that I had to bike as fast as humanly possible and get back to the well-lit streets. Once I was out of that dark street, without even a glance behind me, I sped through the city center streets and back to my home. I made it home terrified and out of breath, but safe. However, I am sure that I saw the same car drive past my school of residence once I had closed the gate behind me.

I realize now how fortunate I've been my whole life, and even as I write what transpired, I feel a visceral fear just like I did in that moment. That night, after sharing my fears with my loved ones, I was left with anger. Anger at the injustice of being a woman and having to think over everything once, twice, or three times, just to be sure that I am not putting myself in danger. I felt outrage at being a walking target for violence, when men can stroll through the same dark streets freely.

But anger has never solved anything. Talking does. I shared my experiences with my supervising professor and she confessed that previous female student-teachers had had similarly terrifying experiences. We talked over alternative courses of action, like staying the night at my first friend's house or even at my teacher's if need be. And most importantly, we discussed constructive ways to bring our opinions forward to those in the town hall, those who have an actual say in the streetlight policy. A discussion which I plan to continue for the sake of any and all women in this town.

Finally, if I could go back in time, I would tell myself one thing: do not belittle any fear that you feel. You are not being paranoid, you are afraid and have every right to be. And most of all, TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Listen to your gut feeling, it's there for a reason; because one day, it may just save your life.

This story was submitted in response to 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence.

Comments 9

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allie shep
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Oh Pilar - how horrible! It is so frustrating isn't it that we have to take extra care BECAUSE we are women. And there seems no answer.

But don't EVER blame yourself Pilar - if we are to fight this evil we have to put the blame entirely where it should be - on men! Not just those who attack or frighten us, but the others - who do nothing to curb their gender and make the streets safer for us.

Every woman has suffered some form of gender violence (like you say at the beginning), but at least here we can talk about it and comfort each other.

Allie xxx

PilarAlbisu
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Hi Allie,

Thanks s much for reading my post and for your kind comment. You are 100% right, it's high time women stop blaming themselves and instead shift the blame where it should be: to the perpetrators! It's the first step in recognizing and addressing the real problem. I too am so thankful for these safe spaces to share our experiences and find comfort in it. For me, writing this post was truly cathartic!

Thanks again and all the best to you,

Pilar

allie shep
Dec 07, 2016
Dec 07, 2016

Thank you for your reply Pilar.

I've re-read your piece and one bit which stands out to me as sad is "I realise now how fortunate I've been my whole life". It's so sad that we have to think like that, isn't it?

As I said in one of my pieces, men don't think twice about walking anywhere at night or standing at a bus stop but for us it's second nature to be worried and not to look anyone in the eye.

It's so sad because so many of the men on the street AREN'T muggers or rapists but they're all blamed, which is why I think it is time the decent men did something - and not leave it to us to highlight the problem and talk to each other on sites like this.

Yes cathartic is a good word. I'm trying to get a colleague to write out a horrible experience she had when she was younger. I'm sure she will benefit from doing so.

I do hope you never have to suffer like this again

Allie xx

Jill Langhus
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Great story, Pilar. I hear you. I've put myself in a couple of uncompromising positions in the past, too, and it is unfortunate that we live in a society where we constantly have to be thinking of where we are and if we are safe. I'm so glad you are safe, though. I kept wondering if the story was going to take a downward turn. And you are so right that anger doesn't help and also to trust your instincts. I can relate to trying to be brave and not addressing the issue, but neither one will help us.I hope that the streetlight policy gets rectified in your area and maybe they need to start a neighborhood watch or men that are willing to walk women home, or something:(

PilarAlbisu
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

Hi Jlanghus,

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my story and for commenting. It's a sad fact that many women feel the need to put on brave airs when they are in fact very fearful of their safety. As you say, neither that nor anger will address the issue of WHY we feel unsafe to begin with. I'll definitely keep the community posted if some changes to come about in my town regarding the light policy. It would be a huge relief and a personal success! Thanks again for your comforting words!

All the best,

Pilar

Jill Langhus
Dec 06, 2016
Dec 06, 2016

You're welcome:) For real. I look forward to a positive outcome post:)

Anjana Vaidya
Jan 26, 2017
Jan 26, 2017

Dear Pilar,

Thank you for posting your experience. I like your point that ''But anger has never solved anything. Talking does'' .Its true that sharing is caring and also learning. I hope the policies will be revisited in your town making the women friendly and for ensuring their safety measures.

Best regards,

anjana

PilarAlbisu
Jan 27, 2017
Jan 27, 2017

Dear Anjana,

Thank you for reading my post and for your kind response. I'm very happy to report that, after several months of campaigning in person and online, the town's citizens (including myself) were able to convince city hall to reverse this 'lights-out' policy and instead switch to energy-efficient light-bulbs to cut costs. Thankfully, I can now walk the town at any hour in the night and my path is lit!

Thank you again for your support and concern!

All the best to you,

Pilar

Annie Rooney
Jul 15, 2017
Jul 15, 2017

Pilar, 

You are smart to listen to your instincts and stay aware of your surroundings.  Also, you did something many of us forget to do, depend on others by sharing your concerns with supportive friends and mentors.  By taking action and working to get the street lights left on for safety, you may make your town safer for all the residents.  Well done!  

Hang in there and keep sharing, so we can all learn from you.