I hadn’t expected to put my IMPACT training to use so soon, but I’m thankful the training prepared me to handle the unexpected and bolstered my confidence to use my voice as a powerful tool to fight back.
One week after completing the June 2018 Core Program, I was walking to the bus stop about in the morning. A few blocks into my walk I wanted to take a selfie (to document my exercise). I lift my phone up and rotate the camera and see this man walking behind me. I make a mental note. I see a woman and little girl walking toward me and so I smile and say hi. The woman says something about it being so hot when she passes so I turn around to laugh and agree. I make sure to look at the man so he knows I see him. I slowed down my pace just to see if he would ever pass me. He doesn’t. He’s following me.
A few moments after reaching the bus stop, I notice the man is standing on the opposite corner, watching me. I turn away and look for the bus. I glance back over and he’s still standing there watching me, but then I hold my gaze and notice he has his penis out stroking himself. Broad daylight, busy intersection. I’ve never experienced this, but have heard many stories; stories of men exposing themselves on trains and buses, or in grocery stores. Like other women I know, no one ever really prepared me how to respond to something like this.
A different version of me - the pre-Impact training, less aware of my badassery version of me - likely would have turned away, ignoring this bold creep and waited for the bus. Or, walked to the Walgreens on the next corner and walked around buying time until he hopefully left. But not this day. This is not ok. I pull my phone up and take his picture. He sees me taking his picture of course, puts his junk away and starts walking across the street toward me. He’s talking loud like I did something wrong to him and I get loud back. “Don’t walk over here!” I yelled to him, but he continues to advance toward me.
He’s standing across from me, inches from my face, yelling, “Oh you don’t know me? You don’t know me?” Me: “No, I DON’T know you!” I’m loud enough to hopefully get the attention of another man walking up the block with a big dog. My thought is surely this big dog will get this man to leave. The man with the dog doesn’t say anything. He turns the corner and keeps walking.
Then, I hear a voice behind me on the other side of a gate. “Are you okay?” I tell the unseen bystander, “No I’m not, this dude just exposed himself to me!” The man behind the gate stepped in and I was able to leave the situation unharmed.
I was proud of myself for speaking up. It felt like a victory. But, it wasn’t enough. I kept thinking about other girls and women this young man will encounter. I probably wasn’t the first woman he’d exposed himself to. I may not be the last. I don’t want us to experience this. It doesn’t matter that he was across the street and didn’t put hands on me. He shouldn’t feel so comfortable to expose himself and intimidate me right on the street in a busy area. What would he do at night?
I decided to file a report with the police. According to the Illinois General Assembly, public indecency is a Class A misdemeanor. If committed on or within 500 feet of an elementary or secondary school grounds when children are present it becomes a Class 4 felony. It is a crime. However, as was my case, it is often not treated with the seriousness of more “major crimes” like homicide or rape. I was nearly laughed out of the police station and left feeling more angry and frustrated than fearful.
I put all of that energy into sharing my story on Facebook to alert my friends and also on my neighborhood’s Nextdoor.com listserv to alert the community. This may not be major to police, but so many women and girls have experienced something similar. This is major to us.
To my surprise, a detective contacted me and the Chicago Police Department issued an official Community Alert that same day. The Alert was picked up and shared on local news and in my Alderman’s newsletter.
I saw something. I said something. And I kept saying it until I was heard. I’m thankful for IMPACT’s reminder that my voice is powerful enough to make change.
Sandria, June 2018 IMPACT Chicago Graduate