Leave me alone, I'm here to run.
August 1, 2010 6:41 AM   Subscribe

Help me run without being harassed.

I've checked previous questions re. harassment, but this one's kind of different.

I run with a buddy near a university, where there's a bunch of stairs leading down to a beach. We go in the morning at around 6AM before the rush hits.

Lately (for the past month) there's been a homeless man sleeping at the top of the stairs. He is frequently drunk and I suspect he's an addict due to behaviour. He's been harassing me and my friend ever since we've seen him (he won't say anything especially crude or sexual and he's not explicitly hitting on us - he'll go along the lines of 'oh, you're running again' and when I ignore him, he'll go along the lines of 'fine, bitch, don't talk to me', etc), and this morning it got worse.

Me and my friend put our warm-up jackets near the stairs, under a bench, away from homeless dude. When we finished our run this morning, he came up to us and told my friend that he moved her car keys into my jacket pocket. (Before anyone tells me that this is her fault, she's never left her keys in her jacket before - she forgot today.) We ignored him, he kept talking (asking if we had family/boyfriends, etc) and then we tripped over a line he'd strung across the path. Let me reiterate: he strung a line to trip us. When we walked away, he shouted, 'Yeah! When you ignore me I set booby traps, that's what I do!' He then proceeded to linger around watching us stretch though we walked approximately half a block away - this sucked immensely because we were parked near him and didn't want him to know what cars we drove. He left only after we walked away in the opposite direction.

I am furious. I can deal with stupid comments because - well, because whatever, and I refuse to let assholes ruin my run, but this (to me) crossed the line. This man went down to where we put our jackets (we tuck them away so they're not easily visible), rummaged through them and then set a 'booby trap' (in his words) for us when we came back. What makes it worse is that my friend's keys have an automatic car unlock on them, and she's not sure if he was in her car or not. arrrrrrrgh what the fuck. Since we've also been running there for some time, he knows our schedule - every time we've been there in the past month, so's he. He doesn't seem to mess with other runners, but the other runners tend to skew towards male, and they don't run as frequently as we do.

My question, then, is this: How do I stop this behaviour from happening, and when I contact the local police and park rangers later, how do I phrase this so that I don't get written off as a hysterical female? I am not afraid of being physically attacked - I am physically strong enough and have enough fight training that I would, in a pinch, be able to defend myself if needed - but I know how bad it would look if a fit twenty-something woman hit back at an old, poor, helpless homeless man (because he wasn't serious, he was just joking, the poor dear, she just overreacted) and I'd like to avoid things getting to the point where physical intervention is necessary.

Thanks for reading this - I know it's long.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (103 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Cops: He assaulted you by setting a booby trap. This may be sufficient to generate an arrest. At the very least, get it on their radar, in the event that you do need to kick this guy's ass yourself.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:49 AM on August 1, 2010 [37 favorites]

Try the police first. If that doesnt do it,

Then try a can of a mace. Maybe this is a classic "guy" response - but I would fight back. Next time run right up to him - mace to the face, and say,
"you set booby traps, I just attack"
posted by Flood at 6:53 AM on August 1, 2010

'Yeah! When you ignore me I set booby traps, that's what I do!'

This is assault and you should call the police.

but I know how bad it would look if a fit twenty-something woman hit back at an old, poor, helpless homeless man

To a jury it would look like a woman defending herself from a dangerous lunatic.
posted by atrazine at 6:55 AM on August 1, 2010 [12 favorites]

Sorry to hear about your unpleasant experience, and perhaps I'm missing something here, but would it not be possible to simply find somewhere else to run? I don't imagine there's any easy way to make the guy change his behaviour, so I'd recommend just giving him as wide a berth as is possible. That said, by all means get the police involved if you can't avoid him for whatever reason or you want to stop this happening to somebody else and you don't mind the potential stress of dealing with that.
posted by d11 at 6:56 AM on August 1, 2010 [8 favorites]

To me anyway, you don't come off as hysterical at all. I would tell the police exactly what you just wrote.

As to stopping this man's behavior, unfortunately, you can't. He's obviously mentally ill, and unless you have a magic cure, there's nothing you can do about that.

I wouldn't change your own behavior, except maybe to not leave any of your stuff around near him, and being extra vigilant for booby traps.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 6:57 AM on August 1, 2010

This may not be a tactic you're interested in, but you'll likely have to start interacting with this guy on some level once you start whatever process you decide upon to address the harassment. So when he says 'Out running again!' as you run by maybe try 'Yep! Good morning!' and continue on your way. Meet 'I moved your keys' with 'Please don't touch my stuff, thanks.' (And put your warm-ups in the car, fer chrissakes.)

From your description of the events, this man is acting out because you're ignoring him. If you can stop ignoring him without engaging or encouraging him (it's a delicate thing, but possible) then I suspect he'll stop going to such lengths to get your attention. He may be homeless, insensitive, a drunk, and/or an addict, but he's human too. Treat him like one. After all, you say he wasn't being crude or offensive, only making small talk with joggers running near his bed? Make small talk back, no big deal, and go on your way.
posted by carsonb at 6:58 AM on August 1, 2010 [26 favorites]

I can't claim to have encountered anything like this, ever, but it sounds like filing a police report, filled with a very matter-of-fact and non-emotional description of the incident this morning, would save you from later appearing as the crazy-bitch-who-punched-some-homeless-dude. Depending on the police in your area they might agree to send a beat cop over around the time you're running to keep him in check.

I don't know what kind of fighting you're trained in, but if he attacks you, and you can defend yourself without giving him a black eye, he'll probably shut up and never bother you again because he doesn't expect you to fight back. And you can tell the police that's exactly what happened. "He came at me, so I put him in an armlock." Besides, a fit twenty-something woman is going to win against a broken old drunk in every public opinion arena.

Another thought--you are entirely within your right to ignore an awful homeless man who is verbally harassing you, but I used to have quite a few of them on my walk to work around the same time so data point... when I got a "hey beautiful" or "aww where YOU goin'!" I would just look at them, smile, and say "how are you." (it's a statement, not a question) and keep walking. I don't claim to know much about the psychology of homeless dudes, but it seems like the attention--the recognition--is enough to appease them, maybe all they're looking for. And he's pissed you won't give him that. NOT that this justifies this crazy.
posted by ista at 7:00 AM on August 1, 2010

...or what carsonb said.
posted by ista at 7:01 AM on August 1, 2010

First things first, leave your jackets in the car, lock the car, and take only the car key with you when you run. That solves the problem of him (or anyone else) messing with or stealing your stuff.

Personally, I would talk to him. Next time you see him, say something along the lines of, "hey, remember that time you set a booby trap for us? That wasn't cool. Why did you do that?" And see what he says. You can follow up with, "are we bothering you by running here? Would you like us to run somewhere else? Because we really like running here, and we would hate to have to go run elsewhere."

I can imagine three responses:
1) He backs off and lets you guys run, but will want you to acknowledge him by saying good morning when you see him. (And why not? Yes, the guy is a whacko jerk, but he's also homeless, so his life kind of sucks.)
2) He gets mad and tells you you can't run there, that it belongs to him, etc, or otherwise reacts negatively.
3) He acts like everything is fine, but escalates the harassment and traps, or otherwise reacts in a generally crazy way.

In instances 2 and 3, the next step is to involve a cop or ranger.

I advocate talking to the guy because, in my experience, that's going to be the first thing the cop says to you, "have you tried talking to him?" And when you answer, "no," the cop is going to look at you like you're a moron. (Which has happened to me at least twice here in Chicago.)
posted by phunniemee at 7:02 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

On failure-to-preview, pretty much what carsonb said.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 AM on August 1, 2010

If he's hanging out drunk, setting booby traps and verbally harassing you, then you are justified in calling the police. Call now and report the incident, even though it is after the fact. What if he pulls this stunt on someone who is not so nimble or able to defend themselves physically? You have every right to carry on with your business, in public and should not have to change your schedule to avoid someone who is harassing you.

Even though you say you can defend yourself physically, you might want want to consider a key-chain mace. Also, leave your jackets locked in your cars.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:12 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I disagree with carsonb. Don't engage him at all. This isn't just some vaguely creepy homeless guy, it's someone who is engaged in a very personal, very creepy, potentially dangerous game with you. It's possible that talking to him will defuse the situation, but it's much more likely to escalate it since he knows he has your attention.

Go to the police. And go to your local Parks & Recreation department.
posted by mkultra at 7:15 AM on August 1, 2010 [32 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with a lot of what's being said here.

Do not attempt to appease this person. This guy is not (just) a drunk/addict, he is also mentally ill and has already demonstrated irrational AND AGGRESSIVE tendencies toward you and your friend. You do NOT want to negotiate a conversational middle ground at this point as it can only protract an interaction that needs to go away entirely.

Change your route and alert the police. This person is dangerous. Demonstrably so! Furthermore, you are doing other passers-by (lone women? children??) a great disservice by not reporting the tripping incident to police.
posted by DavidandConquer at 7:19 AM on August 1, 2010 [39 favorites]

Two immediate solutions spring to mind: the easiest is, as d11 mentioned, to run somewhere else. I know there's the feeling of "damn we should be able to run where we want" but sometimes it's best to bend with the wind. If the beach were covered with oil you'd probably find somewhere else.

The other reaction -- which I suspect will bring down a shitstorm on my head -- is to stop and actually talk to the guy. Not in a confrontive manner, to Make Him Stop, but simply open to what's going on with him, and willing to both listen to him and to tell him how his behavior upsets you. Maybe even bring him a cup of coffee. He's trying to get your attention. He's not throwing things at you, he didn't go over and shit on your jacket, and the "booby trap" doesn't sound like it was meant to actually hurt you as much as get your attention.

I am NOT suggesting you try to make friends with this guy. He's pretty definitely mentally ill, from your description, and you can't reason with a mentally ill person. Nor can you rescue him. But he sleeps there, it's his home space, you come and ran back and forth. You might be able to change it to a situation where you say "Hi, Sam, good morning!" and he says "Hi" back and you run with a calm heart.

I think if you go to the cops, and they actually come down and accost the guy, you're definitely going to have to run somewhere else, because they won't keep him away from the beach forever, and you will have identified yourself as an enemy to a mentally ill person. But if, for whatever reason, you think there should be consequences to his actions with your keys, don't worry that the cops are going to dismiss your concerns. They're on your side. But their options are limited.
posted by kestralwing at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2010

The mace is a bad idea. You'd almost certainly be committing a felony assault if you maced him in retaliation for setting a booby trap.
posted by jayder at 7:20 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


You cannot leave your stuff around "hidden" when you go run. Get a keyholder for your shoe or something and put a spare doorkey on/in it. This is just common sense.

Tell the man he has a choice: leave you the f*ck alone or you will call the police. Have your cell phone in your hand when you say this and start dialing as you speak. Do NOT call 911 -- call the desk at the nearest precinct or 311 if your community has it. Describe the man to the person on the other end down to the smallest detail. If the scuzz-bag starts to walk away, follow him and narrate what you are doing/where you are going. Have someone with you. Describe your past experience with this guy. Likely they will ask you to file a report; DO IT.

This guy isn't playing by the rules, kiddo. His very existence should tell you that. So you have to be more intimidating than him in order for him to get the message that you will NOT tolerate his f*ckery. You should let him know in no uncertain terms his attempt to piss-mark the steps as his territory will not work.

It is likely that he's a known issue to the police already, and threatening him with their involvement will make him disappear. Or he could be straight-up crazy and you need to protect yourself. I am not being unkind -- my brother is schizophrenic and has been homeless and threatening -- just pragmatic. Never let anyone harass you into being 'friendly' with them.

Enjoy your run.
posted by kidelo at 7:21 AM on August 1, 2010 [9 favorites]

Find a local enforcement (parks, cops) station and tell them what happened before your next run. They may say they can do nothing. They may not. But you must report this because of the booby-trapping, which is dangerous and an assault. What will he do next, strew broken glass in the sand? Put hypodermic needles in your pockets facing up? FFS: cop up, stat.

After you report it, if you see him again, do not respond at all. If you have a cameraphone, you take his picture as soon as you see him. Go about your business and if he attempts to engage you again, you make another report for harassment with your photo again.

This guy needs to get help; failing help, he needs to be removed from the scene where he is putting your lives at risk. Don't take this lightly!
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:21 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

And yes, run somewhere else. This is far more important to you than it is to the police, and the disproportion between the results you need and the amount of effort/vigilance the police can provide, really suggests running somewhere else.
posted by jayder at 7:22 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. I made a friend over the weekend and we bonded a little over the fact that she and I have both been punched in the face in public, unprovoked. She was out running with a friend when she was attacked. Guy just decked her and ran. (I was in a bar. That story doesn't belong here, it's tangential and shitty. She and I are both fine.)

Please call the police and let them know what's going on. I'm not usually a fan of loitering laws, but this guy's behavior is one of the things they are supposed to help curtail.

Also. I'm going to tell you the same thing I told her. You're allowed to feel whatever you feel about this incident. Fear. Shame. Anger. Resentment. Confidence from having gotten out of the conversation without becoming violent toward him.

These are normal feelings, and having them does not make you a hysterical woman.

That said, if you two get resistance from the police - they suggest any of this is your fault, they don't try to help you fond a solution, they refuse to make a report - please be persistent and stick up for yourselves. Some people don't understand how icky and scary (and common) these events are. I hope you are able to get the support you need in your community.

Good luck.
posted by bilabial at 7:24 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

He's been harassing me and my friend ever since we've seen him (he won't say anything especially crude or sexual and he's not explicitly hitting on us - he'll go along the lines of 'oh, you're running again' and when I ignore him, he'll go along the lines of 'fine, bitch, don't talk to me', etc)

Let me ask you something; would you consider the same behavior harassment if it was, say, a fellow runner? I doubt it. He's making small talk and you've been treating him like garbage by pretending he doesn't exist.

I have a very fit, 20-something girlfriend who says hi to the homeless people she meets. That's the extent of their interaction, and they're obviously a little too excited to see her, but basic, human kindness is all they expect.

Report what happened to the police, but I'd also advise the next time you see him, to apologize for being so rude and to say that from now on, you'll say hi as you whiz by. He's a person too, even if he's drunk and homeless, and perhaps moreso than most people you meet, a little kindness can mean the world.
posted by Hiker at 7:24 AM on August 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

Hey, guess what, I ignore hundreds of people I walk past every day. We don't greet human being in our path, and just because someone is within range of salutation or conversation doesn't mean you owe them one. Perhaps if this gentleman had initiated with "Mornin' ladies, have a nice run!" or "Nice day out, eh?" instead of "Fine, bitch" you all might by now have some kind of pleasant, wave-and-say-hi interaction by now, but he didn't, because I suspect that's not what he wants. What he wants is to aggravate.

Cops. End of story. If they don't do anything immediately, you'll at least be alerting them for future reference. He assaulted you, and he messed with your property in an effort to disconcert you. If you engage him at all, inform him exactly how his interaction will need to go in the future (no comments, no name-calling, don't touch our stuff, and stay away from us), let him know you'll have your cell on you from now on and that you will call the cops if he gives you any trouble.
posted by hegemone at 7:31 AM on August 1, 2010 [23 favorites]

No one owes a stranger a response to a personal question. If you don't respond they are not justified in calling you bitch. For all the posters that insist OP talk to a man she does not know, when she does not want to, please have a look that the thread Hi. Whatcha Reading?.

OP, I agree this is a situation the police would like to know about, especially as you do not know how many other people are also being harassed and assaulted by this man but are unsure whether to involve the police.
posted by saucysault at 7:41 AM on August 1, 2010 [34 favorites]

His behavior has put you on notice. Sometimes, you don't get so lucky. In this case, you have the opportunity to call the police before things get worse. Do so.
posted by thejoshu at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

would you consider the same behavior harassment if it was, say, a fellow runner?

If a fellow runner intentionally set up an obstacle to trip the OP it would be harassment (or worse), and she should call the police. Moreover, even setting aside the tripping incident, if a fellow runner couldn't handle that the OP didn't want to talk to him and escalated to yelling and name-calling and rifling through her stuff, that would also be harassment, and she should call the police.

OP, call the police. It's tragic that this person is dealing with mental illness and/or addiction, but he's acting out in aggressive, unpredictable ways, and that means that not only are you unsafe, but others are as well. Do your community a favor and call the local police.

My personal policy is generally to respond with "hello" (but keep walking) to anyone who greets me unless the person is clearly intoxicated or mentally ill. I've had too many experiences in which I've responded to someone's slurred greeting (out of a sense of "this is a person deserving of human dignity, regardless of his issues") only to find that this broadcasts "please follow me down the street and don't stop talking to me even when I say stop" (rather than "I acknowledge our shared humanity") to that mentally ill or intoxicated person. That said, this is what works for me, and no one can tell you that you must respond when strangers talk to you. It's totally up to you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:47 AM on August 1, 2010 [11 favorites]

Report what happened to the police, but I'd also advise the next time you see him, to apologize for being so rude and to say that from now on,

What the jesus fuck. She was never rude to him. She ignored unwanted attention from a stranger, which is the correct thing to do regardless of whether the stranger is a homeless man or a rich businesswoman. He then *set a trip wire to catch her* and you want her to apologize?

OP, I'm sure you're intelligent enough to recognize Hiker's shit for what it is. In the meantime, let the police know what's going on, and, for your own safety, don't jog in the same area unless they agree to send a cop out to deal with the guy. It's frustrating, but it's better than being hurt. Don't try self-defense on him, and don't assume that b/c you are young and healthy and he is old and homeless, that you will necessarily come off better in a physical alteration.
posted by frobozz at 7:50 AM on August 1, 2010 [53 favorites]

I don't have any experience with situations like this, so I won't presume to offer advice. But given some of the bad, offensive, and frankly sexist advice in this thread, I'd just like to say that I'm sorry that this happened to you. It sucks, and it's not your fault. You have every reason to feel angry. Saying hi to this guy would not have made things better; he's unfortunately well past rational discourse. Please take care of yourself, and stay safe.
posted by sesquipedalian at 7:54 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

That should have been "We don't greet every human being in our path", obviously (hopefully - I'm not a complete ass, I promise!)
posted by hegemone at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2010

Second to frobozz. Hiker, how dare you suggest a woman apologize to a man for provoking him to assault her?
posted by Countess Elena at 7:56 AM on August 1, 2010 [38 favorites]

I disagree with people who say to be more friendly, not after he set a fricking trip wire. If they start being friendly with him now, he's learned the lesson that aggression = success, which is dangerous for both the OP and the next people he decides to spend his energy on.
And yeah, we don't owe conversation to everyone we meet. It's an easier mindset for a guy to have, maybe, because they don't get as much random chat as women do; women are used to having hellos and more thrown at them from all angles all day. It's something we tune out.

Police. He threatened you and attacked you with the trip wire.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 7:58 AM on August 1, 2010 [14 favorites]

call the cops. your are harassed, stalked, threatened.
posted by Postroad at 8:00 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

seriously folks, there are two classes of mental illness: one class that rarely progresses to outward physical aggression and one that does (and does so, rapidly).

is there ANY question as to which type we're dealing with here???


(and sadly, judging by the favorite-count thus far, this topic is looking to become a spectacular MetaFilter FAIL)
posted by DavidandConquer at 8:01 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Tell the cops and find somewhere else to run.
posted by alligatorman at 8:09 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


would you consider the same behavior harassment if it was, say, a fellow runner?


The first time would be an annoyance. If I made it clear at that point I wanted to be left alone, all subsequent attempts at contact would be totally out of line, with aggressive overtones: "Hey, I know you don't like this, but I'm being friendly so you can't get upset! There's nothing you can do but smile and say Hi!"

As far as courtesy to fellow humans goes, the OP is not the one in this situation that's on the wrong side. In her behavior to homeless guy, she did not behave wrongly. I do think she behaved unwisely in stashing her stuff rather than locking it away or leaving it at home, and also in not calling the police a lot sooner when the harassment first started. I've had to call the cops two or three times in a work situation when people were being abusive or crazy-acting and I was worried about it escalating to violence, and they always sent a cruiser out in a short amount of time. That is, ideally, what they're there for.
posted by frobozz at 8:10 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Ah. "Now we see the violence inherent in the system." After my initial outraged response, I think I've got the dissonance here.

There are two imbalances of power that can be read from this situation, if you have nothing but the bones of it, as we do. The homeless guy is a man, who has been raised to believe that he is entitled to the respectful attention (at the very least) of any given woman, and is prepared to forcibly correct her if she does not give it to him -- which he did. The OP is a woman, but she is also favored with youth, health, and resources, and in our society people with these advantages often consider it acceptable to treat the homeless as subhuman. (She did not, but that is the case.)

Each answer that goes beyond "protect yourself by contacting the police and/or changing your route" reveals what injustice the commenter really perceives and feels should be addressed here. Including mine, I must admit. What a Rorschach test!
posted by Countess Elena at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2010 [23 favorites]

nth locking everything in your car and taking your keys with you. If the key ring is too bulky then put just the car key on a cord around your neck or lace it into your shoes or something. I do that when I run. Always.

I don't think you can/should try to make friends with this guy. It might be a different thing if you were guys, but a woman attempting to be friendly will probably not be treated the way you want. It's just barely possible that if, from the very beginning, you'd answered his questions with simple, one word answers ("Running again?" "Yup") that this would never never gotten any further, but you were under no obligation to do so and are not at fault. He is. Call the cops.

However, be warned that he's probably not going to like the fact that you did that (unless he routinely hassles everyone in that area he might well assume it's you when the cops say "There have been complaints"). You may have to find somewhere else to run for a while.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 8:16 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

blargerz: small talk does not include vulgar insults and questions about a woman's relationship status. His verbal harassment escalated to physical assault and his karmic balance should be determined by the justice system that hopefully can direct him to mental health services. The OP's assistance in calling the police gives her a positive karmic balance as she helps ensure the safety of the community and his own safety.

I have no idea why you would characterise someone who assaulted two women as "a helpless man".
posted by saucysault at 8:18 AM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

The tripwire thing is scary and violent. I think you should call the cops and find another route.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:21 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


These are the facts: a loitering drunk dude -- hell any drunk dude, doesn't even have to be homeless! -- is not the same as a local dog walker. However, lets just say, for the sake of argument, that a local dog walker did try to say hi to the OP, and the OP ignored him/her. Actually, this happens to me a lot, because I'm inclined to nod at people or say hi when passing on the street -- sometimes people ignore me. When they do that, I think "Huh, guess they didn't want to talk." And move on. What I would never do, because it would be psychotic, is to follow that person and try to set a booby trap to trip them, because that would show those bitches!!!

I just really would not do that. Odds are, the hypothetical dog walker would not do that either. People who would do that are not sending karmic messages from the universe. They are just crazy. And one would do well to avoid them.
posted by hegemone at 8:21 AM on August 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

I know how bad it would look if a fit twenty-something woman hit back at an old, poor, helpless homeless man

I'm not aware of any agenda that favors old, befuddled homeless men over young women. Please don't hit him. You got off on the wrong foot. Just find a new place to run.
posted by whiskeyspider at 8:24 AM on August 1, 2010

Mod note: few comments removed - folks - read the whole question and answer it without being assholish please, to both the OP and the other commenters.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:32 AM on August 1, 2010

Oh, I missed the part about the questions about boyfriends/family... that is clearly inappropriate. But from a man who you see frequently enough that he asks "Running again", and to respond with silence, seems both rude and displays a lack of foresight (she knew she would see this man again and again...couldn't she imagine it escalating?)
posted by blargerz at 8:34 AM on August 1, 2010

People who want to blame the victim should take it to MetaTalk.
posted by grouse at 8:36 AM on August 1, 2010

But from a man who you see frequently enough that he asks "Running again", and to respond with silence

should signal to him that he can stop asking already
posted by asockpuppet at 8:36 AM on August 1, 2010 [27 favorites]

carsonb may have the worst advice I've ever seen. There is a point at which basic communication is ok but this creep has assaulted you. Getting to know him is just a terrible idea and could lead to worse things. Call the cops for crying out loud. Connecting with someone may work if they are rational but this man clearly isn't.
posted by chairface at 8:38 AM on August 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

couldn't she imagine it escalating?

It's not her job to babysit anyone else's emotions or reactions. She communicated to him that she did not want to interact. The normal response is to cease attempting to interact with an uninterested person. The abnormal response is to attempt to fuck with that person.
posted by hegemone at 8:41 AM on August 1, 2010 [16 favorites]

Oh, I missed the part about the questions about boyfriends/family... that is clearly inappropriate. But from a man who you see frequently enough that he asks "Running again", and to respond with silence, seems both rude and displays a lack of foresight (she knew she would see this man again and again...couldn't she imagine it escalating?)

Yeah, dude, nobody is owed an answer from me. I choose who I talk to, nobody else. And as for the "lack of foresight" thing, think about what you're implying here. . . women should have the "foresight" to be friendly to creepy strangers because to do otherwise is to invite assault? WTF? It's not OK to have to pretend to be nice to someone so that they don't ATTACK you.
posted by KathrynT at 8:43 AM on August 1, 2010 [23 favorites]

Let me ask you something; would you consider the same behavior harassment if it was, say, a fellow runner? I doubt it. He's making small talk and you've been treating him like garbage by pretending he doesn't exist.

(she knew she would see this man again and again...couldn't she imagine it escalating?)

Could we stop victim-blaming, please? It is not the OP's fault that she is being harassed, and she is in no way obligated to respond to a stranger's comments. I second everyone who says NOT to engage this man in conversation, call the police as soon as possible (and before your next run because who knows what crazy shit he will pull next), and if it continues, unfortunately you may need to find somewhere else to run.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:43 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

As for an actual answer to the OP: Yes, call the police, and report a pattern of escalating harassing and assaultive behavior. If they don't do anything and he continues to be present, keep calling the police, every day, telling them exactly what he's doing.
posted by KathrynT at 8:47 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Yes, that is the normal response. But this is not a normal person, this is a homeless man who is likely an addict or has other mental problems. One cannot justifiably expect an abnormal person to respond normally. Out of recognition of the way people are and not as they should be, and out of a desire for self-preservation amidst them, one has to pro-actively manage such situations. Tramp lightly in the jungle, so to speak.
posted by blargerz at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a male friend who is 6'3", weighs 250+ pounds, and has studied various martial arts for around a quarter of a century. He is insanely strong and technically proficient.

He has paid drunken assholes $20 to leave him alone in order to avoid a fight. If he doesn't need to get in fights, then neither do you.

And I'll just say that the reality of fighting is different from training. You don't know if he's got a knife or tazer, if the exertion of fighting would make him lose bowel control or puke on you, if you'd slip on the sand, anything. He's already tripped you with a booby trap from a Tom & Jerry cartoon - did your youth and training help with that?

Fighting is always, always, always the very last resort. You are well away from that point and there is no reason for you to reach it. I don't think you're stupid and I think it's great that you've gotten training - keep it up! I just think that combat should be avoided if at all possible, and that an attitude where you're "not worried" about combat is a bad one. The strongest, fastest fighter in the world should be worried about combat.

You could certainly call the cops. You always run at the same time, the guy's always there, depending on how overworked they are, you might be able to convince them to be waiting with you.

IMO, the best solution would be to change your route. As you've seen, keeping to the same routine every day means that you're easy to watch and ambush, and that's true of more people than this one guy.

Be safe.
posted by kavasa at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

In my eyes, not what carsonb said at all. He set a trip wire, at which point you have no idea what he may do at any moment. If you suspect he may be on drugs (let alone the drink) then the line from Hunter S. Thompson counts - you can trust a person, but never trust a drug. Up until the trip wire I'd have agreed - acknowledge but don't go further, but... it's gone beyond any point where you should have to acknowledge him now, other than to have behaviour like that punished.

posted by opsin at 8:50 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Find somewhere else to run. This guy is nuts and is not going anywhere else anytime soon.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:52 AM on August 1, 2010

one has to pro-actively manage such situations.

She did: she refused to engage. This is the wisest of all possible responses she could have chosen. Then Dude chose to go nuts. Continued pro-active management of her situation should involve at least the police, as many of us recommended above. Making friends is not the right answer at this point; it likely would never have been the right answer.
posted by hegemone at 8:54 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wonder if any of the answers offered would have been different if the homeless person had been a female.

Social niceties are one thing but the bottom line is that you're not obliged to say anything to anyone, ever, and how anyone chooses to interpret a nonresponse is exactly that, their choice to make. They can either decide to escalate things into an unnecessary problem or they can get on with their life.

The OP's instincts were right not to engage this person and now that the homeless guy has definitely crossed a "social nicety" line with the tripwire, any further effort to engage him would just be at best, rewarding bad behavior, and at worst, giving him justification to pull that stuff on someone else (assuming that he hasn't already).

Sometimes, especially for women, trying to be "nice" can put you at risk. Let the police handle this situation.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:55 AM on August 1, 2010 [7 favorites]

This has been covered, but cannot be stressed enough: answers to the effect that you ever should have engaged with this person socially, simply are not as enlightened as their posters imagine. Certainly it would be Nice if it were always responsible to befriend or appease unfortunate people; that's just not realistic or prudent.

Other answerers, please resolve your unimpoverished-person-guilt by donating to Oxfam or NARSAD or by investing toward the creation of new jobs -- not by advising strangers to put themselves in dangerous situations.

OP, please tell the cops and then find a new place to run: by rights you absolutely shouldn't have to do this, but (1) somewhere in your city is an equally nice jogging area where you will not be menaced and harassed; (2) this man "by rights" shouldn't be so unfortunate -- nobody's life is ever quite what he by rights deserves; and (3) you're probably doing this unstable man a kindness by removing from his presence a stimulus that historically has led him to behave anti-socially.
posted by foursentences at 8:58 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

The way I read it, this guy was being an asshole from the beginning (since when is it considered non-threatening to call someone a bitch for not responding to unwanted attention?).

OP, it was well within your rights to ignore a drunk man who set off your sketchy-radar even if he originally wasn't doing anything terribly heinous. From where I'm standing, it looks like it was the right decision to try not to engage with him, because he's clearly unstable if he's setting trip-wires for you, and when the hell does engaging with random, mentally unstable people ever garner anything good?

So, I would call the police, hang your key around your neck while you run or clip it in a pocket, and be prepared--if the police are not so helpful--to find another place to run. Getting into a battle of wills with a crazy person will not accomplish anything good. Better to just find another part of the beach.

I would NOT frakking apologize to this man or otherwise try to talk to him. He sounds like the type of person who will take any kind of feedback (either positive or negative) as permission to just get more aggressive. Therefore your best option is to get the police to remove him or to remove yourself from the situation.
posted by colfax at 9:00 AM on August 1, 2010

Oh, and the advice about not runing with your keys is good advice. And the cops will listen when you call. Call.
posted by madred at 9:15 AM on August 1, 2010

I for one -and I am a marathoner who gets hassled pretty much every other day- think you need to grow some thicker skin and let this go.

so you know there is a person at a certain point of your route that isn't really what normal people would consider sane. you had negative experiences with him. and yet you keep coming back to that very spot like an abused spouse to her violent husband. this isn't about anything else than your ego. you don't want to go a different route because it's your right and you are right and how dare he and all that. get over it. you are probably covering between five and twenty kilometers on your morning runs. you do not have to take these stairs. besides, you better get used to this because you will find more areas where people holler at you, make obscene gestures or simply give you the "she must be a criminal" look. you are being confrontational here.

now to this specific gentleman: if he really does have mental issues like the rope would suggest then it's fairly unreasonable to expect him to feel the effect of punishment a rational human being would. he might very well be living in his own world where he is right and you are snooty and condescending for avoiding him. my point is that in his world you might be the bad guy and by escalating this, which is exactly what you are doing if you pursue this, you only heighten the injustice in his mind. even if he gets arrested he'll be out eventually. do you really want someone who you already know isn't all that well to be really mad at you? I am going to stop short of spelling out horror scenarios involving knives and whatnot else but again I strongly recommend avoiding this area even if it bothers you to give way to a lunatic.
posted by krautland at 9:16 AM on August 1, 2010

The fact that he set out a TRIP WIRE is proof enough that the OP was right to be skeeved out by him. He has escalated this interaction to physical aggression. This could get even more scary.

Further, to reiterate wise words said above: "If they start being friendly with him now, he's learned the lesson that aggression = success, which is dangerous for both the OP and the next people he decides to spend his energy on." Rewarding him for setting a TRIP WIRE would make the world a worse place.

Run elsewhere. Call police. Do not give this guy the time of day.

On an unrelated note: leaving your jackets under the stairs, with your keys inside, is a bad idea. Run with your keys. You wouldn't forget to run without your shoes, don't forget to run without your keys. I know you said leaving the keys in there was an accident, and accidents happen, but Bad Things (or, at the very least, Annoying Things) can happen if you can't readily get back into your car.

Further: But since (by her own admission) the man was non-threatening and non-lecherous, I'm sure she and others here can see how her unresposiveness may be construed as haughty and princess-y.

No. Dude leaves a TRIP WIRE because apparently he's The Collector. He lingers to watch them stretch. He thinks he's owed attention from total strangers. Shit is wack. You don't have to be of royal blood to want to avoid this.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:26 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

you are being confrontational here.

What a complete and utter load of horseshit. The questioner has every right to run where she likes without fear of intimidation, especially from someone who has already demonstrated that they are a dangerous person. Period. There is nothing "confrontational" about her behavior here and that you would even think for a moment that there was is reprehensible.
posted by dhammond at 9:30 AM on August 1, 2010 [16 favorites]

now to this specific gentleman: if he really does have mental issues like the rope would suggest then it's fairly unreasonable to expect him to feel the effect of punishment a rational human being would. he might very well be living in his own world where he is right and you are snooty and condescending for avoiding him. my point is that in his world you might be the bad guy and by escalating this, which is exactly what you are doing if you pursue this, you only heighten the injustice in his mind. even if he gets arrested he'll be out eventually. do you really want someone who you already know isn't all that well to be really mad at you? I am going to stop short of spelling out horror scenarios involving knives and whatnot else but again I strongly recommend avoiding this area even if it bothers you to give way to a lunatic.

So by virtue of this guy being mentally ill (or being able to act like he is) he should be allowed to get away with willfully assaulting some because, oh noes, if he gets arrested he might get out and come back after her? Are you serious? Why bother to have laws or a justice system if we'll all just agree to governed by fear of those who can act the most crazy and threatening, or can sic their badass friends on you?
posted by fuse theorem at 9:35 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Call the police. Log a report and then find another place to run. You don't owe this guy an explanation, he's dangerous and may escalate. Sorry this happened to you.
posted by arcticseal at 9:35 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Women who speak back nicely to drunks can get blamed for provoking them or leading them on if they're followed or stalked or worse, and often find by experience, as meg murry pointed out, that responding to someone's slurred greeting (out of a sense of "this is a person deserving of human dignity, regardless of his issues")... broadcasts "please follow me down the street and don't stop talking to me even when I say stop" . This is a safety issue for women not to respond to drunks/potentially addicted/mentally ill people on the street. You're damned if you do - it can put you in dangerous situations, and damned if you don't - peeved drunks may retaliate, and others can scold you, that you didn't offer yourself up straight-away like a good victim for the significant risks that any woman faces if she engages with a unknown drunk on the street. Do not listen to them. If you'd spoken to the drunk, there's plenty chance you would have been harassed anyway when he decided he wanted more attention and conversation than 'hello'. This happens more often than the 'peeved drunk decides to set booby traps' scenario.

Because of the booby traps, this is a matter for the police. It might also, however galling, be safer to change where you run because the police likely can't make this person stay away and you don't know precisely what is wrong with them and whether it could issue into more violence.
posted by Flitcraft at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2010 [11 favorites]

Okay, if, if, if, IF, this was just an overfriendly dude who wanted to say good morning AND the guy didn't expect a response AND he could leave it at that, I would be comfortable with the advice to just say good morning to the guy and engage in a wee bit of human interaction. I enjoy a routine like this every morning with a particular guy that I see on my commute.

This is not that kind of situation. Period. Someone who escalates to insults when they doesn't get a response is automatically in the "creep" category, whether they're male or female, and wearing Armani or rags. And the trip wire is batshitinsane and means it's time to call the cops.

So, to answer your question. I'm a big fan of practicing for stressful situations. Write down your story in bullet points. Include nice, cold, data like numbers: times of arrival and departure, duration. Basically, describe the situation exactly as if you're the cop writing a police report. If you want, bring it with you. If the cop asks you why you wrote it down, say that you don't have to give reports to the police often and you wanted to make sure that you could explain the situation clearly.

Expect to get some chiding for leaving your stuff and your keys "hidden." Honestly, I can't believe you thought this was safe, for a thousand reasons. But don't let this derail your police report, and don't preemptively apologize for it. Just include this detail matter-of-factly.

If the cop chides you, just 1) agree that it was bad idea right away and 2) explain briefly that from now on you will change in the car and bring the key on your new clip/shoe-holder/whatever and 3) continue to the next part of the story without getting defensive. Don't explain your rationale, don't tell the cop how well you hid your jackets, don't go on about how long you've had this routine, just, essentially, flag it and move on. Your wee little error in judgment does not justify this dude's HUGE error in judgment.
posted by desuetude at 9:39 AM on August 1, 2010 [12 favorites]

Be careful. I know we're supposed to be sympathetic to the sainted, down-on-their-luck homeless, but too many of their ranks are mentally ill, violent and wrestling with various addictions for you to take risks with your safety and engage them. Have some sense, get the police involved, and avoid this individual at all costs. The world is not a kindergarten playground.

And stop worrying what other people think about you. Just do what is right.
posted by teedee2000 at 9:48 AM on August 1, 2010

Although I believe that filing a report with the police should be your first step,I think you might be able to employ a couple of strategies to help. I do think running by yourself at this point would be a mistake.

If you really don't want to give up your route, take a male friend to run with you a few times. Since this guy doesn't seem to harass the male runners in the area, this might get him to back off. That may not help either. Obviously, this guy has a problem with seeing women as possible victims.

in future situations, a brief acknowledgment may go towards avoiding this type of problem. A head nod is a simple way to greet without engaging. I doubt that would have helped in this situation, though.
posted by annsunny at 9:57 AM on August 1, 2010

fuse theorem: what exactly are you expecting? him getting arrested resulting in him being gone forever? or do you think this obviously unreasonable person will conclude that it's better to stop all this because he spent a night in jail, if at all? as you said ... Are you serious?

What a complete and utter load of horseshit.
you, too. she wants to get back at him for something wrong he did. that is confrontational. it's asking for this to get out of hand.

I would just run someplace else. in fact scenes like this are why I specifically avoid running through certain areas at certain times. it's especially alcohol that makes people behave in unreasonable ways and runners are somehow attractive targets to them. this is all about egos. telling OP to not walking away from a potential confrontation is absolutely irresponsible of you. you don't know that person. we all don't. you just assume because it would be right in theory that it would work. sadly you don't have enough information to make such judgement and you are not thinking about potential negative outcomes.
posted by krautland at 10:00 AM on August 1, 2010

carsonb is right, compassion/connection right off the bat can change the trajectory of many interactions.

That being said, it can't change all of them.

Because of the trip wire, now it is about your own safety, his safety, the safety of others. You should definitely report it. Then, run somewhere else for awhile. Then you can come back, locking up your things properly, of course.

The lack of humanity towards homeless people depresses me. I try to give them their humanity back when I can...
posted by Vaike at 10:00 AM on August 1, 2010 [5 favorites]

You guys can go through hypotheticals all you want, but homeless drunks who set booby traps are not of the right mind.

We had a drunk, near work, who loitered around the bus stop harassing women. He wasn't at the boob trapping phase but we called the cops who dutifully came and picked him up. There were no drama, just called 911 and they came by to haul him off. Haven't seen him sense.

This is really the only way to deal with. I would go further and say these sort of indigents will only cease in their activities when the police are brought in. This isn't some socially awkward guy you see at the coffee shop every morning.
posted by geoff. at 10:02 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Okay, so I didn't realize this would generate so much comment.

To everyone suggested me and my friend talk to him - we've tried that - this is my bad, because I only put in what I did and not what she did. My friend is much more even-tempered than I am, and in the beginning she would respond by going 'Good morning! How are you?' and doing the small-chat thing, because she's a nice person. I ignored him because in my past experience, you can feel when someone's genuinely being friendly and when someone's trying to get a rise out of you. She tried going 'oh, we're not here to talk, we're here to run!' to cut down on comments, but we had to both start ignoring him when he started to ask about my friend's boyfriend, what he thinks about her always running, why are we always running, we don't need to lose any weight, and that's when it got worse. So she's tried being nice. It seemed to do nothing but encourage more comments from him. Unless there's something specific that I can say to satisfy him without encouraging further interaction, I'm hesitant to try and speak to him, especially after last week.

Re. considering the homeless sub-human: I mention the fact that he's homeless and possibly an alcoholic because it's relevant (he's there every day), and the fact that he might be an addict because I've seen the behaviour before and that might change how he reacts to us. I don't think I said anything derogatory or implied that I'm antagonistic towards him because he's homeless and not because he's freaking me out, though if I said anything that might be construed as such, I apologize - point it out to me and I'll try and watch that in the future.

Re. avoiding him: there's only one way out of the beach, and it's at the top of a long flight of stairs - there's only one narrow path out, and he sleeps right at the top of the stairs. That's how he strung the rope or whatever it was. We put our jackets under a bench that's at the bottom of the long flight of stairs - they're not easily visible from where he is.

Re. jackets/keys: We're going to start sticking our stuff in a backpack and just carrying it around with us. The reason why we thought it was safe to put our jackets under the bench was because in this area, lots of runners do it. Granted, most of these runners are male, but since this is a university area, it's pretty friendly and most park-goers look out for each other.

Re. if he was a fellow runner: If another runner was making comments to me every time I was running, watching me post-run and setting up traps for me, I would have probably reacted by getting up into his face and telling him to leave me alone before I called 911. I asked for help exactly because he isn't another runner - I wouldn't put up with half the attention with from another runner before getting confrontational, but I do recognize the power dynamic here.

My friend called the police yesterday - they said carry cellphones and call them or campus security the next time we see him. They won't send a squad car.

So... I think we might have to switch places in the end, which... really sucks, because I've been running there (with a buddy and by myself) on and off over five years and this is the first time I've ever felt creeped out.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:05 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mod note: one more note: we do not advocate killing the homeless here, for any reason, take that shit elsewhere.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:05 AM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

OP: I agree that it totally sucks, and I'm sorry. :( Your safety and that of your friend is paramount, though. That said, you could try finding somewhere else (and I would really advocate having at least a few regular routes you cycle between) and then, after a few months, checking back again. He wasn't there before and he could very well move on.
posted by kavasa at 10:12 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unless there's something specific that I can say to satisfy him without encouraging further interaction,

There really isn't, and you really, truly don't owe him any satisfaction. You wouldn't even if he weren't homeless, or drunk, or possibly mentally ill. You are not in the wrong here, in any way.

Your friend tried being nice at first, and that garnered more unpleasant interaction. You tried ignoring, and that garnered more unpleasant interaction. There is no way to "win" in this.

Keep calling the cops and/or campus po if he keeps harassing you. Squeaky wheel and all that.
posted by rtha at 10:15 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

You need to call the police because he may be doing the same thing to other women who are running or walking in that area.
posted by lucysparrow at 10:17 AM on August 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

They won't send a squad car.

I think that's horrible. You were assaulted and they don't seem to give a damn. If it were me, I would go down to the station and insist on filing a report in person.
posted by grouse at 10:17 AM on August 1, 2010 [11 favorites]

If it were me, I would go down to the station and insist on filing a report in person.

Yes. You were assaulted. Make a report in person.

Now I have to go have some tea before I start off on a rant about how I await another round of the Victim-Blaming Chorus, this time with a change in tune from "it's your fault for being rude by ignoring him" to "it's your fault for being stupid by talking to him."
posted by scody at 10:35 AM on August 1, 2010 [9 favorites]

Why in the world wouldn't calling the police be the first action you took?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:48 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Right now you're likely his reason to hang out at that spot.

So, just get off his radar for awhile - run somewhere else for a few months. Eventually he'll grow bored of that spot and move on. And you'll have stairs again.
posted by herox at 10:52 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

If the police won't do anything about it, you need to run somewhere other than the beach. Sorry. That really sucks, but it's better to keep yourself as far away from this guy as possible.

And never, never leave your stuff anywhere in the public, even if it's hidden.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:02 AM on August 1, 2010

File a report, in person with the cops. The trip wire is not a prank and they should have sent a car. When they ask why you are in there to files a report, say that you want it on record that this guy has anti-social behavior and nobody is doing anything about it. You've noticed that you are one of the few females runners at this spot. Perhaps the "why" is hanging out at the end of those steps.
posted by dabitch at 11:17 AM on August 1, 2010 [6 favorites]

A: Cops. File in person. Tell them that you had to come in because this man set a trap with the intent to cause harm and they wouldn't dispatch.
B: Change location. I wish you didn't have to, but just in terms of risk management, this is something you can control.
C: Lock your stuff up. Come on.
D: The only dignity you MIGHT owe him is to help him if his life is in danger. All other human rights are granted to him by your local government. You're not required to make small talk with anyone, especially someone who is escalating their language and is now taking actions towards violence.

It's important to remember that he, regardless of his 'station' in society, has the ability to make choices and he can choose to say to himself, "Well, she's running and doesn't want to talk. I guess I'll get back to my life." But he hasn't and has chosen a path of harassment.

This is not your fault. You owe him no apologies.
posted by CarlRossi at 11:58 AM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love how when a woman is threatened the first response is 'Aww, poor wittle guy! He is hurt by her failure to bake him a cake and manage his emotions!'

Fuck that shit right to hell. Fuck valuing being nice to a harassing, booby-trapping asshole over someone's safety and peace of mind. Women have the right not to talk to anyone.

OP, you need to run elsewhere until the crazy man moves on, as he will undoubtedly do once enough people complain about his presence. And you might want to talk to your friend about the wisdom of engaging with people on the street.

File a police report, run elsewhere, and never, NEVER feel bad for not talking to people who expect your attention in public.
posted by winna at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2010 [18 favorites]

Does your town have a homeless outreach task force? I call City Hall when there are folks in my alley who need to be redirected into local programs, and they drive by, stop, and assess the situation.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2010

1. Cops: go down and file a report. Each of you. Separate reports. Ask to talk to the community policing liaison.
2. If you have campus police file there too.
3. Run somewhere else for a while. Talk to some of your fellow beach runners and ask them to let you know when it's safe to come back.
4. Send out a university or local runners-email list notice about this guy as a heads up to other women.
5. If the beach is part of a park system let the local rangers or superintendent know what's going on. Trust me, they want to know these kinds of things. Plus there are female park staff too and they work alone, early and late and would probably appreciate the heads up.

And for Pete's sake ignore the advice to engage this guy in any way. For all you know he was just released from prison after serving time for aggravated rape or murder. He's stalking your friend. There is some terrible advice in this thread.
posted by fshgrl at 3:17 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

You don't have any obligation to respond to anyone you meet, and you don't have to "be polite" instead of responding in a manner that promotes your safety. Anyone suggesting that isn't very familiar with how to be female and safe.

People in his situation, by the very definition, are those who don't fit well into the way our society is structured. His rules are not your rules. The way he accomplishes his goals aren't going to be the same way you do it.

Looking at it from his side, maybe he is thinking:
-Rule 1. Polite people talk to each other. (I'm talking to girls, and finding out if they are single, and giving them compliments, and recognizing them when they return. I don't think he's trying to date you, but this might be how he envisions friendly talk to a woman. Maybe he's trying the only formula he understands -- you can make yourself not invisible by speaking to others and being spoken to in return.)

-Rule 2. People who aren't polite don't deserve politeness from me. (You're ignoring me and therefore being bitches.)

-Rule 3. You're not invited. (Bitches drive to my house at six a. m., wake me up, and then ignore my politeness. I didn't have to be polite!)

-Rule 4. You have safe places to leave your stuff, so don't leave it in my house. (Bitches choose to put their stuff where I can get it and I am going to prove to them that I can.)

-Rule 5. I am not invisible. (You can pretend not to hear me, but I can force you to respond to me by setting up a tripline.)

It would seem that you are already aware that this is a First World Problem -- you two each drive your own car to get to a place where this guy sleeps in order to exercise. It really honestly sucks that someone is being an asshole and trying to prevent you from enjoying the beach of your choice, but dude, you have a car. You have infinite possibility to select something else or somewhere else to be.

Your initial obligation has been fulfilled, to alert the police in case he is a danger to others. Fshgrl has a good list of other things you might do.
posted by Sallyfur at 4:18 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's the thing. This guy has a mental illness. If someone has a mental illness, what you *don't* want to do is get on their radar. Ignoring him is one way to get on his radar, as you have discovered. Now, after weeks (or months) of ignoring him, you and your friend have become one of his "pet projects" so to speak.

The best way to handle people like this, is to nonchalantly reply "Hi". Don't make too much eye contact, don't engage in conversation, just "Hi". Maybe even "How're you doing?", depending on how you feel. Don't be intimidated, don't be intimidating. Be neutral and (ever so slightly) friendly.

You don't owe him anything, that's true. But by giving him a quick nod, you defuse the situation.

So, in future:
1) Don't deliberately ignore a hello. Quick, nonchalant reply, and then on your way. You're running, they can see that, there's no time to stop and engage.
2) DON'T leave your clothes/car keys in public. Anything you leave in public (no matter how well hidden) will get ripped off eventually.

My advice for the current situation:
1) Go into the nearest police station. Ask to speak with one of the cops. Tell him/her about the whole incident. If he's a homeless man who lives under the stairs at the local beach, he *is* known to them. Say you don't want to press charges but you would like them to "have a word with him".
2) Change your location for your morning run. Sorry to say this, but it is necessary. He will be even more pissed when the police talk to him. Who knows what he is capable of? Why take the chance? Yes you are young and strong and can fight him off, but crazy people don't always fight by the rules (water in the petrol tank maybe? 4 flat tyres? He has plenty of time on his hands!).
posted by humpy at 4:22 PM on August 1, 2010

When you call the police, tell your story backwards.

Start with "this crazy-looking homeless guy set up a boobytrap for my friend and I!"

Then describe the boobytrap. Then progress to "also he rummaged through our pockets," and from there to "he's been bugging us for ages."

Finishing with "then he set a boobytrap" is what we call "burying the lede."
posted by ErikaB at 4:26 PM on August 1, 2010 [18 favorites]

Ignoring him is one way to get on his radar, as you have discovered.

You missed this in the OP's response above: My friend is much more even-tempered than I am, and in the beginning she would respond by going 'Good morning! How are you?' and doing the small-chat thing, because she's a nice person.

And the friend got on his radar. It's literally a no-win situation, and there is no way for a woman to know which of the choices (say hi vs ignore) is the "right" one.
posted by rtha at 4:35 PM on August 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

there is no way for a woman to know which of the choices (say hi vs ignore) is the "right" one.

This isn't just a female problem. I used to always talk politely to panhandlers until I also got on one's radar by doing just that, and he followed me around and harassed me in escalating ways for months before he disappeared. Now I usually feel like ignoring them is the wiser course of action.
posted by grouse at 4:39 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of answers, here are my two cents. Ignore the guy (and be consistent about ignoring him) or run somewhere else. Don't leave your stuff unsecured. I don't know why you would leave your stuff out anyway.
posted by fifilaru at 4:59 PM on August 1, 2010

I know this will be an unpopular opinion but, in my experience, homeless people are usually homeless because they either are drugged out or are crazy in a way that means they don't interact well with other people. Now, yes, there are occasionally the people who just find it simpler and easier to just live in the woods than try to fake a normal life, but these are usually not the type who try to force conversation on random young women. For the first two category of homeless, I find it is best to avoid them, especially as a woman. Even saying "Hey" to a greeting often turns into unwanted interaction. No one is required to say hello to every shady person on the street. Frankly, when I am doing my thing, I mostly just want to be left alone and people should respect that.

The yelling was bad enough. The trip wire is way crazy! He could have seriously hurt somebody. Tell the police AND run somewhere else. You don't have to interact with him but you shouldn't directly provoke him. He's going to go William Tecumseh Sherman on you and you can never win against that.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:49 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

And the friend got on his radar

Yes, she got on his radar because she engaged him. See the difference? She is being friendly and open and nice and making conversation. Yes, this is an invitation for him to try and get to know her better.

My advice - a quick, neutral "Hi". No need to stop and chat. Hurry on by. But if you ignore him you risk agitating him more.

I acknowledge that there is no *right* answer, but this is what has always worked for me in the past, when dealing with panhandlers and the homeless. I am male though so that might make all the difference, I don't know :-)

On second thoughts, if it were me, I would have changed my jogging route long ago. Life is too short to have to deal with an asshole every day, even if he is a homeless person.
posted by humpy at 5:56 PM on August 1, 2010

humpy, I have to agree with rtha. As frustrating as it is, as terrible as it is when you're trying to solve a problem like this for women, there is a point at which you have to admit they just couldn't have possibly done anything differently. They could have raised their voices, lowered them, made eye contact, not made eye contact, been friendly but not too friendly, been cold but not cold enough, or make any variation in behavior- and it just goes on- and it wouldn't have made a bit of difference. In my experience, not only are men individuals who cannot be predicted that easily, but if a man is truly determined to be insulted or already feels agressive, like this guy, anything you say and do as a woman can and will be used against you. I'm sure men occasionally experience the same thing from other men, perhaps in a scenario with a guy looking for a fight who just won't take no for an answer. If you haven't discovered that there simply is NO safe magic standard formula of social interaction for women follow to not provoke strange men in situations like this, you eventually will hear a story that changes your mind.

Ignoring him is the option that saves the most time and peace of mind.
posted by Nixy at 7:33 PM on August 1, 2010 [10 favorites]

I've tried to avoid this question, but it has been bothering me all day, so here it goes. The problem I have is the keys. The guy had access to your friends car and presumably her house keys (either on the key chain or in the car) and documents showing her address. Do not assume the guy is without resources or is not intelligent, regardless of what you think his mental state might be. He could have made a cast of your friends keys and I don't think it would be overly paranoid of her to change her locks. You didn't catch the guy going through your stuff, he WANTED you to know he had access to the keys and put them in the other jacket to prove to you that he did.

Also, don't assume that he is weak and fragile. He is likely in a lot stronger than you imagine and if he does have dependency issues or mental issues he may not feel pain like you would expect and probably has not too much to lose. I'd but my money on a wiry old drunk over an average athletic young woman any day, and give you only a slight advantage if there were two of you. You don't know what this guy might be carrying or what he is willing to do. You mention there are other joggers around, but don't count on them if things get out of hand. The cell phone is a good idea, but don't count on it, either.

Given the guy's presumed mental state, there is nothing you can reasonable do to diffuse the situation yourselves except stay away. Any intervention by the police will likely escalate the situation and as criminal charges will be unlikely in this case, the best you could hope for is they throw the guy in the drunk tank for a day or two, after which he will be back with a real grudge.

If you do decide to pursue this angle both of you should go to the police, campus security, and the park rangers if it falls within their areas and explain how you were assaulted (I believe that's the proper word after harassment becomes physically violent) and talk about options. Chances are good they are already familiar with this guy. The most productive action would probably be a friendly chat with the least authoritative figure. Something along the lines of "Some people been harassed. One poor girl got tripped and may not be able to run for a while. Can't have that happening around here. People have to be able to use the beach. etc, etc."

It's really unfortunate you are in this situation, and it is not your fault, but that doesn't mean it's not going to be an inconvenience to you. If all it took to remove homeless people from the street was for someone to accuse them of harassment without any real proof, there wouldn't be a homeless problem.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you is you can't stay away from the area and law enforcement can't help is for you and your friend to team up with a couple of male runners since you say he doesn't seem to bother them.

Good luck
posted by Yorrick at 8:17 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

I actually read a book that featured exactly this technique used by a serial killer on a woman jogger. (linky: don't click if you read a lot of mystery/thrillers, esp. by international authors, and don't want a plot point revealed)

I agree that you need to notify all pertinent law enforcement and park management officials. Aside from what occurred with you two, another woman alone might be in even more danger from his saboteur fetish, so I would be the squeakiest of squeaky wheels about this in the event I wasn't taken seriously. For me, simply changing my route and not reporting him would be out of the question. I might change my route (but more likely I would add other joggers and/or a friend's exercise-hungry large dog who would adore a nice beachside jog to my company), but I would be too worried about what could potentially happen to someone else to remain silent. I don't view homeless people as threatening, but this guy has demonstrated that he's a threat and that he wants to exert dominance and control, which is very worrying.
posted by taz at 4:06 AM on August 2, 2010

Ignoring him is one way to get on his radar, as you have discovered. Now, after weeks (or months) of ignoring him, you and your friend have become one of his "pet projects" so to speak.

Hi, in any thread that's posted anonymously, before posting something, if you don't want to read the comments, scan down to see if there's something posted by jessamyn (or another mod, I suppose, seems like anonymous responses always get posted by jessamyn).

Oh, here it is. In which you'll read that they absolutely did say hello to the homeless guy, until the point that it did not work: in the beginning she would respond by going 'Good morning! How are you?' and doing the small-chat thing, because she's a nice person... She tried going 'oh, we're not here to talk, we're here to run!' to cut down on comments...

It seems like so many comments have been a little tug of war between those who think she should have talked more and those who don't. And here's the thing. It turns out they talked to the homeless guy after all, so now it's a moot point.

OP, so far it looks like you're doing all the right things. The only thing I'd add is it might be a good idea to take a little time to figure out how you're feeling after all of this. Anger, fear, annoyance, frustration (hopefully no guilt) -- these are all feelings you could be having now, and if so please find a healthy way to process them. It's bad enough that you can't run where you want to. There's no reason to feel like crap on top of it.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:28 AM on August 2, 2010

In addition to working with law enforcement and keeping safe, please, please read Gavin de Becker's Gift of Fear. A main theme of this book is about people who try to be nice, and Bad People who take advantage of that.
posted by SillyShepherd at 7:50 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know this will be an unpopular opinion but, in my experience, homeless people are usually homeless because they either are drugged out or are crazy in a way that means they don't interact well with other people.

Speaking from a position of ethnographic authority, having surveyed a number of homeless people in a city in NC, I can say this man is mentally ill and should be in a treatment facility, not participating in a society he is not capable of participating in. Since the cops are not interested in doing anything to settle this situation, I like the pepper-spray option. Get the real strong kind. Hit him with it right out of the blue, next time you see him, but don't bother saying anything to him. It doesn't matter what you say, to him, he isn't listening. Remember the spray isn't to teach him a lesson, it is to debilitate him. The best scenario is that he is debilitated by the spray enough to seek some authority figure or get to a shelter when he can be referred to the services he needs.

The other option is to take advantage of your privilege and lie to the police about what the man has done. Call the police and tell them that he came at you with a knife, or that you saw him with a gun, or that he's selling drugs, or whatever. You are likely to be believed over the man, and you may actually help him get the help he needs.

If he is allowed to continue to be hostile at the top of these stairs, his physical and mental condition will deteriorate and he will victimize someone and then go on to die on the streets.
posted by fuq at 8:12 AM on August 2, 2010

Like Yorrick, I've been bothered all night by the question I already answered. For the same reason : he moved her keys from one pocket to another.

I still think you should go to the cops and file a report in person, if you haven't already make sure to repeat the key point until the cops understand what a creepy powerplay that guy made. Them being cops, I'm sure they get it at once though.

Also, jog somewhere else.
posted by dabitch at 8:14 AM on August 2, 2010

Oh yeah, a note: NOT ALL HOMELESS PEOPLE ARE MENTALLY ILL, and being homeless for long periods of time can lead to mental illnesses, even in perfectly nice and sane people. Just wanted to be clear on that.

Also: there are no excuses for harassment. None.
posted by fuq at 8:15 AM on August 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

What fuq is describing above is not a realistic prediction of what will happen if you preemptively attack your homeless harasser or make a false report. This homeless person has, without a doubt, been in relatively frequent contact with law enforcement (relative, at least, to those who are not homeless and do not have substance abuse problems or mental illness). In all likelihood he has had opportunities to receive services and treatment from various shelters and programs, and has been unable or unwilling to comply with those organizations. That's not to say that those organizations are totally ineffective, just that if society could solve the problems of drug addiction, mental illness, and homelessness simply by having police refer those individuals to treatment when they encounter them, we would no longer have drug addiction, mental illness, or homelessness.

That said, thinking about this makes me wonder if perhaps there are others in your community who have been affected by this man, or perhaps a particular police officer who has interacted with him previously. It might behoove you to dig around a little (any nearby businesses might have had encounters with him, or sports teams that use the area) if you're not getting any traction with police on your own--teaming up with others to talk to the police's community liaison might get you somewhere.
posted by Meg_Murry at 3:34 PM on August 2, 2010

Weighing in late here. You absolutely did the right thing in going to the police, and I am horrified they didn't take you more seriously. The point was made above that this was an escalation of behavior. There is a real risk that this man could threaten harm to people, and as bad as this incident is as described the risk is that he could hurt people more vulnerable than the OP.

I worked for a while in an area of my city with a fair bit of crime and a very visible minority, some struggling with homelessness, poverty and addiction. My way home took me across a bridge over the railway line, a fairly crowded area I couldn't avoid. One evening a young man who I had seen around previously lunged towards me and grabbed my breasts. I pushed him away, yelled at him to fuck off and kept going. I was seriously shaken, but couldn't work out if it was worth the bother of filing a report. After all I wasn't physically hurt, and what good would it do making life harder for people because of an obviously mentally ill and harmless man, right?

A month or so later a police representative came through the place I was working, to chat with local businesses about crime in the area. After a bit of encouragement from a coworker I talked to them about being grabbed on the bridge.

I was surprised how seriously the police took it. I was fine, right? No big deal. Two days later I received a call from the police to let me know that they were fairly certain they'd arrested the guy who had grabbed me, only after a series of incidents similar to my own. The last of these involved a 12 year old girl.

Yeah, I was fine and lucky enough to have the resources and a thick enough skin to just shrug it off. But it wasn't just about what happened to me, it was about what happened next, to a child. I should have filed a report. Please go back in to the station and make a report in person. The police need to take it seriously.
posted by arha at 10:19 PM on August 2, 2010 [5 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks to everyone for their responses - ErikaB, I'm not sure if this was due to your advice or not, but we've got a report number now, so it's on paper. Thanks. They still won't send someone out to look for him, though. Rats. (He's ALWAYS THERE in the morning. He has a sleeping bag, an alarm clock and a bag. He's even got a cup with a toothbrush - the dude is not hard to miss.)

We're going to run elsewhere for the time being. It's galling, and both of us are kind of futilely gnashing our teeth, but - what else can we do? We are, however, probably going to try going there again with attachments of the male persuasion and see if we can possibly get a photo of this guy (obvs. without letting on that we're doing so) so we can send it to the local beach preservation society - they're kind of possessive of the beach and fiercely friendly; maybe it'll do some good. There have been a significant (to my mind) drop in female runners lately - there used to be a single woman running and a group of young students running, but I haven't seen them around lately - though correlation doesn't equal causation, etc.

Pepper-spray in my area is illegal, though the suggestion is logical.

Thanks again to all the level-minded hiveminders.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:07 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

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