Making a Mountain out of a Molehill?
September 2, 2011 8:29 PM   Subscribe

A guy followed me into a parking lot and tried to keep me from getting into my car. Please help me calm down, give me tips if this ever happens again, and tell me what I should do.

I was sitting in a coffee shop studying, and the entire time I was there this guy was staring at me. It kind of creeped me out, but I didn't really start worrying until the guy packed up his stuff the same time I did and followed me out. Once we were in the parking lot, he followed me to my car, calling out to me. I tried to remember the safety instructions I know (walk fast and with purpose, not looking scared) and I beat him to my car, where I got in as fast as I could and locked the door. He walked right up to my door and I drove away as fast as possible. I didn't start hyperventilating until I was safe.

I know this sounds minor, but it hasn't really happened to me before and I'm not sure what to do. Did I do something wrong? Should I call the police? How can I avoid this happening again? I'm the kind of person who feels better armed with information, so I just need some reassurance and some facts/instructions.
posted by kingfishers catch fire to Grab Bag (77 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Of course you should call the police! Do it now.
posted by Wordwoman at 8:32 PM on September 2, 2011 [19 favorites]

It is not minor. I'm glad nothing worse than getting freaked out happened to you! The one thing I remember from my school's Take Back The Night events was to hold your keys up and to a point, so you can use them as a weapon if necessary. A couple self-defense classes might help you feel more in control too.
posted by litnerd at 8:33 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

What was he calling out to you? Are you sure you didn't just misinterpret someone trying to catch up with you because they thought they knew you (or did know you)?, or just wanted to tell you something?

It sounds like you did pretty much anything you could have been expected to do under the circumstances, but I used to feel better about carrying Mace in my purse just in case anything bad happened... not saying I necessarily would have used it in this situation but at least then you'd feel like you had something to turn to aside from physical strength.

Here are the tips from the National Crime Prevention Council on Protecting Yourself from Violent Crime.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:35 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I don't think I misinterpreted. He'd been staring at me for hours and he packed up the exact same time I did. If he'd wanted to talk to me, he could have done it inside, right?
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2011 [12 favorites]

You didn't do anything wrong!

It's true he could have just been, um, I don't know, (I'm reaching here) wanting your number or something, but you must always trust your intuition so you definitely, positively did the right thing!

Any decent fellow with good intentions would have spoken to in the coffee shop, not followed you into a parking lot at night.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2011

Best answer: Oh Jesus, definitely call the police. And call the coffee shop and explain what happened so they can keep an eye out for him. Technically he didn't do anything illegal, just act threatening, but better safe than sorry.

Also--in the future, if somebody is creeping you out like don't be afraid to listen to your gut! Again, better safe than sorry! Go up to the coffee counter and explain the situation to one of the people working there. Ask for an escort. If the dude leaves just as you do, go right back inside. If it's closing, stand outside the door and bang on it and yell. Never, ever be worried about making a scene if you feel your personal safety is at stake.
posted by Anonymous at 8:38 PM on September 2, 2011

Response by poster: Do I call 911 or the non-emergency number?
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:40 PM on September 2, 2011

Eww. But also - nice job! You had your keys out, you moved to your vehicle quickly, you didn't stop to talk to him, you drove away quickly.

My only suggestion - next time ask a male staff member to walk you to your car.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 8:41 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Call the coffee shop right after you call the police. Chances are someone there might be able to help give a description. You aren't overreacting or misinterpreting, and you should report this right now.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:41 PM on September 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:41 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd call non-emergency as you aren't in any danger right now.
posted by bolognius maximus at 8:41 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had creepy guys follow me before, as have any number of female friends and family. It is not at all minor, and actually I'm having the sympathy shakes for you just reading this post.

Don't doubt yourself and think you are making a mountain out of a molehill. Your instincts were right.

On preview: Yeah, don't be afraid to make a scene. I've totally shouted at creepy guys before, flat out RAN AWAY from them, tried to kick them in the balls, held up my keys, etc.
posted by so much modern time at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Give a description of the guy and the location. If you're near a college campus, call the campus security office, too, to let them know. (Even if you don't go to the school.)
posted by phunniemee at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Seriously, that's scary. Hopefully, it never happens again. But my plan, if I ever found myself in a situation where I felt like someone was following me, is to not worry about seeming weird but going somewhere else populated (or back to where I was). It's not worth it trying to seem cool with everything even if you're a little bit worried. If there's nothing to actually worry about, great, you might seem a little neurotic, and probably no one would even notice. And if there IS something to worry about, hopefully this helps avoid it or help you suss out whether or not there is something to worry about. I'm sorry this happened to you and I'm glad that you got away.
posted by lurking_girl at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2011

While you are waiting to get patched through to someone, make a list of all the defining characteristics you can remember before you forget them.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:42 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I just want to nth don't be afraid to make a scene. A good friend of mine was followed while she was jogging on a very secluded path. The man started to approach her threateningly and she screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING GET AWAY FROM ME WHAT YOU ARE DOING" over and over. She doesn't know if anyone even heard, but HE Did, and he turned around and ran away.
posted by telegraph at 8:45 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: I'm pretty sure he was an international student in one of the graduate programs at the colleges around here. Do you think it's a cross-cultural problem?

I'll look up the non-emergency number and file a report if needed.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:47 PM on September 2, 2011

Response by poster: I mean, I will call. I just need to gather my wits first...
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:48 PM on September 2, 2011

Everyone is absolutely right about you making a scene. Do not EVER feel like you need to give someone who is making you feel uncomfortable the benefit of the doubt. You did great. You listened to your instincts.

I guess now I'd try to remember identifying characteristics in case the cops need them. You're safe, everything will be ok.
posted by mckenney at 8:53 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

I would only add that you could have, in the coffee shop while he was staring at you, looked him in the eye and said, "excuse me, do you have a problem?" or something similar.
posted by michaelh at 8:55 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wow. While I understand that you were scared, I totally disagree with calling the police. This man didn't do anything illegal.

I do agree with the suggestion to stay in a more crowded/lit/public place if you feel afraid. When you saw the guy grab his things and start to follow you out, you could have gone back into the coffee shop and asked a staff member to accompany you out.

You might look into women's self-defense classes. Having a little karate under your belt cannot hurt, and will probably make you more confident and a less appealing target.
posted by parrot_person at 8:56 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I called. All of the officers were busy. I'll call back in a bit.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:59 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Very sorry...

Wait. There's no way you left something in the coffeeshop, right? But even if he had been trying to return something...okay, scratch that.

Gavin de Becker's "The Gift of Fear" will be recommended here, I suspect; it is a useful book. Main lesson: listen to your heebie-jeebies. If you see a creeper packing up when you are again, go chat with the staff while you wait for him to leave, or ask them to escort you. (And never hesitate to say "Hey, dude was staring at me the whole time -- know him?")

give me tips if this ever happens again

Years ago I was walking home from work a bit before 11pm in what I did not think of as a crummy neighbourhood. A man stopped me to ask the time, and while I was saying "Sure, it's..." and focusing on my watch, he reached over and grabbed a breast. Hard.

So -- it turned out -- I yelled JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! YOU FUCKING PERVERT! and hit him, one very good punch to the head/face, and next thing I knew he was on the ground, and I took off. So my tip is to not sell yourself short. You did well here -- yes, ideally, you would've been able to head for a populated area but it sounds like your car was the best refuge here and you wouldn't have been able to get anywhere else without getting closer to him. Adrenalin can give you a great vocabulary and right hook out of nowhere. Be confident.

...and, yeah, call the police. Even if he didn't do things that were illegal, he did do things that were wrong and things that are often the precursor to something illegal. parrot_person's local papers are different than mine, which do report 'be careful at Pucktash Library as reports have been received of a man who stares at women there and then follows them to their cars' stuff.
posted by kmennie at 9:03 PM on September 2, 2011 [27 favorites]

Yeah, just wanted to note the same thing as kmennie about it being perfectly normal to report someone who hasn't technically done anything illegal; same sort of thing gets put in the papers here about being on look-out for suspicious people who have done threatening things, ESPECIALLY the type of thing you describe here (following women). It gives the police something to follow too, since these things usually happen more than once -- which, by the way, is all the more reason to report it.

So sorry this happened to you; I know from multiple similar experiences how terrifying it is.
posted by Nattie at 9:11 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

While he may not have done anything illegal, it doesn't mean he won't do something illegal given the chance. If there are a number of colleges around, as the OP mentioned, women should be warned that there is a potentially dangerous man following women to their cars and that they should be extra careful and avoid walking alone. I'm guessing the man wasn't just some nice guy who wanted to politely express interest in the OP -- if he was, he would have done that in the coffee shop where she would have felt safe.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 9:11 PM on September 2, 2011 [10 favorites]

I'm glad you're safe! That must have been a really scary incident.

I think it's important to ask yourself the question, though: If he was trying to talk to you about knowing you from somewhere else (or that you forgot a book, or some other legitimate reason), what would that have looked like?
posted by Jairus at 9:15 PM on September 2, 2011

Echoing, do not be afraid to make a scene. One thing I have heard to do when someone is acting threatening outside the car is to honk the horn over and over to attract attention.

I also recommend a self defense course designed for women and taught by women. I have taken many of these classes and one thing they emphasize that you will not get in a martial arts class is practice with using your voice and your words to handle a situation. It is the toughest/most awkward part of the class for many women . . . . for some reason, standing up for ourselves verbally can be very uncomfortable. The basic formula is to name the behavior, criticize the behavior and tell them what you want them to do. So for example: "You are staring at me and I don't like it and I want you to stop right now." Verbal self defense skills really are just as important as physical skills.

Also, on preview, seconding The Gift of Fear.

Trust your instincts. You knew something was wrong. When it escalated, you knew to run and get to safety quickly. I'm really glad you are okay.
posted by ainsley at 9:18 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You should call 911 right now. Uniformed officers will come to your house and take a report. Their next stop should be the coffee house. You should call the coffee house, too, or better, go back there and talk to them.

Coffee House and police need a description of this guy.

For the future...

As he followed you out... you could have paused in doors to phone someone on your cell phone so that you were not walking to your car "alone" - but that only would have worked if you were still inside when you thought he might follow you!

Additionally, you could have notified the manager or floor staff that the guy was staring at you when you noticed it. I've worked in heaps of restaurants and clubs, this would not have been a weird thing for you to do!

Everyone wants you to be safe. You are right now, but call 911. Think of the next girl. Call 911.
posted by jbenben at 9:18 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't think you're overreacting. I agree with what everyone said here. If this guy wanted to talk to you for some reason, he would have done it inside the coffee shop, cross cultural or not. Only a predator will wait until you're alone to approach you.
posted by Polgara at 9:25 PM on September 2, 2011 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You did the right thing. And also. One huge way the system of crap we're all stuck in controls women (and men, but more often women) is by giving them vague feelings of Doing It Wrong in situations like this: what if you misinterpreted what was happening, what if he's a nice boy who just wanted to give you back your favorite pencil you dropped while running away in bitchy paranoia, what if you report him and he gets hassled and his feelings get hurt, what if what if what if what if...


If a person is freaking you out, he is freaking you out. You protect yourself first. You do what you have to do. Feel free to shout "Hey! What are you doing? Are you following me?" and run back into the coffee place. Feel free to ask other people nearby for help ("That guy is freaking me out. Can you watch for a minute until I get in my car?") Feel free to pull out your phone and say "I am calling the cops right now!" - anything you need to do to feel safe.

"But what if that's an overreaction and this poor innocent guy gets in trouble," The System part of your brain is complaining. SO WHAT. In this case, if you call the cops and the coffee shop and they find this guy and he turns out to be totally innocent, you know, so what. He learns a valuable lesson about not behaving in totally innocent ways that just happen to look exactly like predation.

You need to keep yourself safe. The potentially hurt feelings of someone you don't know don't come into this anywhere.

You did the right thing. Good for you.

PS - don't listen to people who will try to insist that this guy did nothing wrong or illegal. You being a fast thinker and a fast walker who beat them to your car does not mean that someone could not have had ill intent.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 9:26 PM on September 2, 2011 [79 favorites]

I'm glad you're okay and agree with the consensus above that you are right to take this seriously.

I am writing to add that posters who argue that the creep "did nothing illegal" do not know that. We don't know your jurisdiction, and more importantly we didn't see what he did -- depending on his actions, and on how close he came to winning the footrace to your car, it is certainly possible that he committed criminal assault or some statutory cousin. So please know that the law, too, takes these situations seriously (as well it should).
posted by foursentences at 9:35 PM on September 2, 2011

2. Yes, call the police.
3. You will only have done something wrong if you do not call the police.

However: for future reference, if you are unlucky enough that this happens again, and lucky enough that you notice someone is following you out of a store, turn around and walk to the counter (or up to some other service person.) Ask them what time it is. Then, see if the person is still there. If you see them walking away and getting in their own car, wait for them to leave, then leave. If you see them standing there waiting for you, or if you've lost sight of them, let the service person know that someone was behaving very oddly and following you, and could you please get a walk to your car?

A quick note about people saying the behavior isn't wrong or illegal: there's nothing wrong with protecting yourself and finding out later it was unnecessary. Better safe.
posted by davejay at 9:37 PM on September 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Yeah, you have got to read The Gift of Fear.

You're rationalizing this guy's behavior and saying it sounds minor when it absolutely is not.
posted by selfmedicating at 9:49 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Call the coffee shop now and see if anyone there can remember the guy. Get the names of people on duty so you can give them to the cops later. Let the coffee shop know to keep an eye out for a guy following women.

I want to underline that you did the right thing by reacting strongly to protect yourself. Maybe he was Mr Culturally Awkward Foreigner, but who knows. What he did sounds seriously scary. It is not over-reacting to file a police report on this threatening behavior.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:05 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I called the police. They said that because he didn't actually touch me, and the description I was able to give them was too vague, they didn't have that much information to go on. The whole thing happened at 11pm as the coffee shop was closing, so I'm going to call them tomorrow and give them a heads up. I'm not going to go back there, in case the guy hangs around there, and I'll make sure to stay in situations where people I trust can ensure that I'm safe.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 10:14 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You did a good job.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:23 PM on September 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: about 2 years ago I had a similar experience when walking home one night. it was pretty late, after midnight. suddenly, a white suv crossing the intersection ahead made a sudden turn and came straight for me. two guys got out, one of them carrying a baseball bat and came running towards me, one of them yelling 'yo, give me the shit, man' (did they think i had drugs? was that just their way of saying 'give me your wallet'? i guess i'll never know.), admittedly, this was a bit more of a 'mugging' than 'attempted sexual assault' (possibly? probably?), but as i turned and ran, a bit of advice that i remembered that they now tell children to use in case of emergency popped into my head, and goddamit, it WORKED! ...REMEMBER: (!!!)


it was so shockingly effective that i absolutely forgot to be scared, either then or afterwards. lights came on in about half the windows on that block and the next so quickly that it was as if i had turned them on with my voice. the two guys immediately stopped chasing me, turned around, raced back to their car, and drove off as fast as they could.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:39 PM on September 2, 2011 [35 favorites]

Best answer: You did the right thing. Calling the non-emergency number after the situation passed was also the right thing to do -- after you had escaped the situation.

For what it's worth, I have had several situations in which the authorities were not particularly useful. Although people will tell you IN BOLD to call 911 immediately, that doesn't mean anything at all will happen or that you will receive any assistance from authority. This is sometimes tough to deal with; be ready for it.

You did the right thing, and we are all glad you are safe.
posted by fake at 10:45 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Here's the thing about the Gift of Fear -- maybe you think people recommend it because it has instructions on what to do in potentially dangerous situations. Well, it does. The first instruction is "Trust your instincts." Then it elaborates on that. But simply DO what your body is screaming at you to do is number one, and 80% of what the author has to say.

Which you did.

The HMS Beagle has it. And you're awesome.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "I'm pretty sure he was an international student in one of the graduate programs at the colleges around here. Do you think it's a cross-cultural problem?"

It could be but you are still correct to call the police. There was an incident at my college where a "cross-cultural misunderstanding" escalated to full-on criminal stalking. This is threatening behavior and as a guest in your country he is obligated to obey the norms of that country. Chasing a woman into a parking lot is creepy, threatening, dangerous, and wrong. If that's not the case in his home country (doubtful) and he didn't manage to learn it during international student orientation, better he have a chat with the cops when he "just" scared the crap out of you instead of learning about the finer points of the American legal system from the inside when he manages to actually grab someone to get her attention or crosses the line into stalking or worse.

(And for anyone else reading the thread later, obviously don't drive home if you think the stalker might be following -- driving to a police station is best! -- and DON'T run to a women's room ... someone intent on assault doesn't care about the sign on the door and you now have cornered yourself. I came very close to learning this the worst possible way.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:58 PM on September 2, 2011 [13 favorites]

Hard to add to all the good advice that you have been given already but I would suggest either pepper spray or a good stun gun , whichever is legal in your state. After I was accosted once I carried pepper spray around for years and if I felt I was walking around in a less than ideal situation I kept my hand in my coat pocket or in my pocketbook around the spray.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 11:01 PM on September 2, 2011

Wow, really? Ok, I'm not a girl and maybe my perspective is way off, but isn't it possible that maybe he was kind of interested in you but shy and only gathered up the courage to talk to you when he saw that you were leaving? Of course it is a good idea to be prepared and carry pepper spray or something if you do get into a bad situation, but I don't really see any clear evidence from your story that indicates how this would have played out one way or another.
posted by sophist at 11:51 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Unnecessary staring is sexual harassment.

I would have yelled at him to stop staring at me in the coffeeshop. Nthing those who say call it and describe the guy.

I had this happen a few months ago:

I was in a bar whose burgers had been recommended;it was mobbed, but a booth soon became free. I settled in, found a plug to charge my phone and got out a newspaper. A few minutes later, a man slid into the opposite bench and began to stare at me. I said “Back off!!” He didn’t move. I said “You are NOT welcome to join me!!!” He didn’t move. I asked “Do I have to get the manager?”, unplugged the cell and got up. As I tried to get over to the bar, he finally got up and said, “Ok, I’m going” and tried to pat me. I snapped “DON’T TOUCH ME!!!” and he went back to his friends. When I was finally able to point him out to the bartender, he left when I saw what I was doing.

Long before hollaback existed I was on my way back to my car when a man started approaching me with : "Hi......Hi....Hi...." I scowled and angled away from him. When he blocked my way, I roared "LEAVE ME ALONE" and he backed off.
posted by brujita at 11:56 PM on September 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Wow, really? Ok, I'm not a girl and maybe my perspective is way off

Yes it is.

Please come back when you've been a woman older than 10 for fifteen or twenty years.

So you are suggesting when alarm bells are going off in her head she should what? Slow down? Stand in the empty parking lot at 11:00pm to see what the stranger want to say? The guy who's been staring at her for hours and now wants to intercept her before she gets into her car? That's a good idea?
posted by Anonymous at 12:15 AM on September 3, 2011

When HE saw.
posted by brujita at 12:22 AM on September 3, 2011

Calling the police may be worth it even when it doesn't seem that they're doing anything with the information. You may be putting something on someone's radar for future use. You know, if three other women call to report similar incidents, someone might start paying attention. And beyond that, there's a principle at play that says the police should be paying attention to this, and they shouldn't be "protected" from taking these calls.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:26 AM on September 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Oh, and my experience on not acting irrationally or overreacting:

Years back I was riding a subway to the end of the line and was on the last car. It was getting emptier and emptier with each stop. There was a guy staring at me and it was making me uncomfortable, but I didn't want to overreact or make assumptions so I stayed put. He came over to talk to me and I tried to be polite. Between the second-to-last and last stop he grabbed at my boobs and masturbated in front of me. If I hadn't been yelling at him and pushing him away from me I don't know where it would have gone. Giving the incredibly creepy dude the benefit of the doubt? Totally not worth it.
posted by Anonymous at 12:26 AM on September 3, 2011

What is your jurisdiction?

I am APPALLED the police wouldn't take a statement. Good for you regarding alerting the coffee house.
posted by jbenben at 12:45 AM on September 3, 2011

Best answer: sophist, you don't get that women have to look out for these things all the time and they can escalate quickly. Your perspective is totally off because you are not a woman.

Years ago in Montreal, I was walking home by myself at around four in the morning. I was a little on edge because in the last four weeks alone, I had my breast grabbed by a teenage boy as his friend jostled in me, my ass grabbed by a man walking by me on a crowded street, and was followed home by a chef who was drunk and had just got out of work and wanted my phone number. He had his hand on the back of my neck and was "massaging it." There was no one around and I was afraid to make noise because having a strange drunk man's hand on the back of your neck doesn't feel very safe -- you don't want to make that guy mad. But I vowed that I would make noise the next time I felt threatened.

So when I was walking home alone, on edge, a nice-enough looking man came out of the bar around the corner from my house. He kept trying to talk to me and I told him I wasn't interested in talking. I kept walking forward, he wouldn't accept that I didn't want to talk, and so he held on to my arm as he asked me why I wouldn't talk to him. I screamed at him, told him to fuck off and not to touch me and he proceeded to follow me telling me he was a nice guy and he wouldn't leave until I told him why I wouldn't talk to him. And here's the thing, he probably was a nice guy. But he wasn't that nice because, as I told him that night (loudly, with a lot of cursing), a nice guy would not put a girl -- alone by herself in the middle of the night -- in a situation where she felt scared or physically threatened. A nice guy would not feel he was entitled to touch me when I tried to brush him off. And then threaten to follow me until I explained why I was upset, just because he was embarrassed.

He didn't get it. His perspective was way off, too.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:54 AM on September 3, 2011 [21 favorites]

*jostled into me
posted by Felicity Rilke at 12:55 AM on September 3, 2011

walked right up to my door

Wow, that would be scary. Good job getting out of there.
posted by salvia at 1:02 AM on September 3, 2011

You absoutely did the right thing, including calling the police. I'm glad you're safe. It can be hard to anticipate that sort of thing, and while hopefully there won't be a next time, if there is you might be able to head it off before it becomes an alone-in-a-parking-lot-with-a-weirdo situation. I think if you're up for it you might want to consider going back to the coffee shop with some friends to see if he does hang out there, especially if you like that coffee shop otherwise, then confront him publicly and/or follow up with the police if he is there and he behaves the same way.

As for misunderstandings--which I'm not saying your situation was--here's what happened to me on my way home from work tonight. I was in a hurry to get home, and was stuck behind a slow-moving car. At the point on the freeway where a third lane begins I intended to move over into that lane to pass the slow car, but the driver of car behind me had had the same idea only she started her move on the shoulder before the lane began, and was already alongside my car when the lane began. I gave her a "what the fuck, you idiot?" look and gesture, then pulled in behind her after she had passed. She was in a hurry, I was in a hurry. No big deal, really. She was hauling ass down the freeway and wasn't slowing me down at all. It turned out we were going to the same place so I was behind her for twenty miles, taking the same exit and turning on the same roads. She must have thought I was following her and to be honest, after her little stunt passing on the shoulder I didn't go out of my way to make it clear that I wasn't. There had been no opportunity for me to pass her, and by rights it should have been me wondering if I was being followed. We ended up at a red light next to one another, and that's where my little ethical dilemma began. I honked my horn to try to get her attention. She ignored me. So I honked again, and again, and again until she finally looked over at me. I gave her a "roll down your window" motion and she did, somewhat reluctantly. Then I told her that I thought she'd want to know that her brake lights weren't working (they weren't). I'm a big, possibly scary-looking guy, and I really didn't want to freak her out, but I figured she'd probably prefer to know about her brake lights before it was a cop telling her about them and writing her a ticket. I know I'd want to be told if my brake lights weren't working because I wouldn't likely ever notice it on my own. She had clearly been expecting the worst when I tried to get her attention, but she seemed grateful (and relieved), and it all worked out OK in the end.

That's not really relevant to your situation, I know, and it's certainly always better to be safe than sorry. On behalf of all the guys who can't possibly understand because they're not women, I just wanted to share an example of how things aren't always as they may seem.
posted by Balonious Assault at 1:29 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Balonious, I would rather get a ticket from the police than to respond to somebody's honking. Especially if the person has already demonstrated road rage and followed me for twenty miles.

I know you think you did the right thing but I would have felt threatened by you.
posted by marais at 2:01 AM on September 3, 2011 [29 favorites]

I gather that you called your police station. Please call the safety offices at all the local colleges too. Perhaps this creeper has already had some "cultural misunderstandings" with other women and the college cops are looking for someone of his description. You didn't do anything wrong. You did the right thing. (Next time you can also swear. I've found it to be very helpful to just start spewing every kind of obscenity I can think of so then whether they were creeping or not, they figure I'm batshit and not worth any further attention.)
posted by motsque at 2:03 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Balonious, I know for sure I wouldn't have even rolled my window down when you signaled to do so, no matter how many times you honked and tried to get my attention, and I have a legitimate reason why. In the little over ten years I've been driving a car, I have experienced, dozens upon dozens of times, men yelling sexually harrassing and obscene things (sometimes with hand gestures!) to me through car windows, even when I'm just driving on a warm day with my window half-down and doing nothing but minding my own fucking business, but some have just yelled them at my closed window after trying repeatedly to get my attention by honking their horn. In the past few months, incidents like that have begun to happen so frequently that I do not even feel ok to drive with my window down anymore. I'm 100% certain I'm not the only woman on the planet that this happens to, so your actions, as marais mentioned, could easily have been interpreted as threatening and scary by a reasonable and logical person who has had experiences such as these.

You're right, things truly aren't "always as they seem"; it's actually not a purely innocuous thing to honk your horn and gesture for a woman to roll down her car window.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:38 AM on September 3, 2011 [14 favorites]

Best answer: You did the absolute right thing. Just reading your post gave me chills, and I want to reiterate what so many other Mefites have stated, that when you feel you're in danger, you GO with your gut instincts and ask questions later. That is exactly what you've done and bravo for that.

As for your question about whether it could be a cross-cultural misunderstanding, let me share a story with you. When I was in university, I lived in a dorm with heavy mix of international students. One year I was placed next door to an international student who gave me the creeps from the moment I met him. He had this strange way of staring at me that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I told myself I was being irrational and to give him the benefit of the doubt.

One evening he opened the door to my room while I was changing (no one locked their doors at our dorm). I screamed, which must have startled him into letting the door slam back shut. I covered myself and bolted the door in a panic, then fumbled to get my pjs on while wondering what the fuck. He then knocked, and at this point I was still ready to forgive his faux pas as an honest blunder. So I stupidly answered the door... I was expecting an apology, I suppose, but he asked to come in. I told him no, this was not a good time for me, and he began pushing on the door, then trying to push past me. He was smiling. I certainly wasn't, told him to get the fuck out, shoved the door shut, bolted it, and phoned my RA.

I found out later on that there had been formal complaints about this guy from female students on every single floor of our building, including an instance of (albeit minor) physical sexual assault. He refused to knock it off despite several warnings and talking-tos and was finally banned from returning the following year. Yes, the residence staff was totally fucking useless, dude should have been evicted and turned into the police, but they wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt in case it was... a cross-cultural misunderstanding.

Cross-cultural misunderstanding my ass. We had many, many male students from the same country and culture as this pervert, and in the three years I lived at that dorm, not one of them gave me the creeps or any problems. Not one guy from any other country either. Just this guy. Don't second guess yourself or feel bad for him, he put you in a terrible spot and he deserves whatever embarrassment or other consequences he gets for acting like a creep. I hope you're feeling okay. You're not alone, and you did the right thing.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:04 AM on September 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wow, really? Ok, I'm not a girl and maybe my perspective is way off

I'm not a girl either. But think of it this way - what if this had happened to your little sister? Your wife/girlfriend? Or even to your mother? Suddenly that's not just maybe a case of some guy being misunderstood. Had this happened to my sister or my wife, I certainly would have been more than a little freaked out. This is not a minor occurence. Calling the police or being prepared to take quick action to defend oneself in a situation like this isn't an overreaction.
posted by azpenguin at 5:11 AM on September 3, 2011 [5 favorites]

Start carrying pepper spray.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:31 AM on September 3, 2011

Response by poster: Ok, I woke up feeling a lot better this morning. I called the coffee place and they seemed to take it seriously and are going to look at the cameras. I bought pepper spray and I'm looking at self-defense classes. I'm getting all of my friends to walk me places.

Thanks for your help! :)
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 6:25 AM on September 3, 2011 [14 favorites]

The Police are often titled the Department of Public Safety. In a situation where you think you are in danger, you call them. I find it appalling that they didn't respond to your call. Calling the police doesn't indict the guy of anything. But following a woman to her car and interfering with her ability to get into her car and leave is a scenario that has had a lot of very bad endings. It should always be okay to call the police with a concern about public safety. The person you talk to on the phone should be trained to help you assess the danger and respond appropriately. If police are dispatched and you are in danger, the person on the phone should be able to help you while they are en route.
posted by theora55 at 6:40 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I haven't had the best experiences with the local police department, in general, but I'm confident that if I had been in a dangerous situation and called 911 they would have responded appropriately. When I called the non-emergency number, they did offer to send a police officer to my house to take my statement, but by this point it was already 1 in the morning, I was exhausted and upset, and the officer on the phone spent a long time talking about how they couldn't really do anything because nothing actually happened. I'm ok knowing that I just gave them a heads up (the officer on the phone did take notes) and that the coffee place knows and will keep an eye out for the guy.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 6:46 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

A dissent against pepper spray -- one my college friends who worked with the self-defense seminars told me that they actually recommend people NOT use it, because criminals will often expect their targets will have it and know how to defend THEMSELVES against it, get it out of their victims' hands and turn it on THEM.

Instead, they told us, think about how the things you already have on you could be a weapon. You had your keys out -- try making a fist with the keys poking through the fingers, and so if you had to hit the guy it'd hurt like fuck. A to-go cup of coffee also works -- throw it in his face. Both of those things are things an attacker wouldn't expect and wouldn't know how to protect themselves from, so they'd work as well as, if not better than, pepper spray. My friend also said a handful of pocket change thrown in a guy's face works.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

But you absolutely did the right things in this instance, and should be proud of yourself.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:53 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, look at it this way, kcf; the cops now have a record of this stuff going on in your area. This creep has/will undoubtedly do it again.

I hate that you feel afraid to go to the coffee shop again; it's not fair that this creep is restraining your freedom that way. Maybe if you could take a friend(s) and go, and use your cameraphone if he shows up. But don't feel you have to take that risk if you're not up to it.
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm a huge dude, and if this had happened to me, I would be freaking out. I just want to add my voice to the chorus of people here saying no, this is not a minor thing and, yes, you are right to report it to the police. That's what I would do, too.

The thing is, you don't know what's in the other person's head. You can't act on what you think their intent might be, because you can't know what that is. You can only respond to their actions. Staring at someone and then following them when they leave a coffee shop is extremely threatening behaviour.

The right thing to do is get out of the threatening situation the quickest way you can think of, which you did, and people have offered some advice here about even quicker ways in case something like this happens again. What he did is sufficiently alarming that calling the police was also definitely the right thing to do in response.

Are there non-threatening reasons why this guy might have followed you? Sure, maybe, but it would be a mistake to stop and ask, or hang around and see what happens. Because if he actually did have bad intentions, by the time you find this out, it may be too late to escape the situation. The way he behaved was a major warning sign, and you responded to it appropriately.

Try not to second-guess yourself over this--you did the right thing.
posted by FishBike at 7:01 AM on September 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

I'm also appalled that the police aren't interested in entering this event into their records.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:09 AM on September 3, 2011

Best answer: Some men can't stand seeing themselves as the bad guy and will insist you talk to them and clear up this "misunderstanding." THIS IS THEIR PROBLEM AND NOT YOURS. Don't feel obligated to help them with it. Same goes for cross-cultural misunderstandings. In some cultures, dressing like a westerner is a sign of sexual looseness. AGAIN, it's not your job to teach them otherwise.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:21 AM on September 3, 2011 [12 favorites]

Um, this is going to be an unpopular answer. What are your state's concealed carry laws? Look into getting a gun. At the very least, pepper spray--but that just enrages some attackers. You need to be able to defend yourself. I am a 5'6 125 22 year old LIBERAL woman who will be getting a concealed carry license soon. Imagine how you would have felt with a gun. You wouldn't have needed to fire it. Most situations will not require such drastic measures (and it is drastic to fire a gun in an public area, even if it is just a warning shot)! It doesn't seem like this would have been the time for it. You wouldn't have been afraid to tell him: "Sir, please stop. You are far too close to me." You would have known that if he'd started showing signs of severe aggression, you could have protected yourself. You could have gained the confidence to do things on your own terms, knowing that you weren't defenseless. Criminals prey on the weak. Once they know you are not weak, they will leave you alone. Of course, please know the laws in your area.

Also, you should NOT have gone to your car. Run TOWARDS safety, NOT AWAY from danger. You should have gone towards people, not towards your car. I am not trying to blame you in any way. It's hard to know what to do in a situation like this. I'm sorry you had to experience this. I'm glad you came out of it OK.
posted by 200burritos at 8:06 AM on September 3, 2011

Response by poster: He was between me and the coffee shop. Turning back would have meant getting closer to him, so I still think my car was the closest safe place I could get to.

Also, I'm not thinking about getting a gun, but I did look up the concealed carry permit law out of curiosity. I can't get one unless I'm a permanent state resident here, which I'm not.
posted by kingfishers catch fire at 8:12 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Pepper spray is a great idea. Good on you for carrying it. When you use it, hold it away from your body and spray immediately - don't use it to threaten, just use it. In situations where the attacker may be towering over you, it is instinctual to hold the bottle up near your face like a shield, but beware, the mist comes back just a little and you will spray yourself if it is too close.

I know this because I was sprayed by a clerk who was defending herself from a towering, bloody attacker who had also attacked me. The only mistake she made was also spraying herself.

I can tell you, having been sprayed, it is effective. It makes breathing extraordinarily difficult (your lungs close up FAST) and your face and eyes burn terribly. Having just been attacked I was about as adrenaline-pumped as I'd ever been, but it still made it nearly impossible to function and finish dragging the guy out the door.

Also, I live in a very high-crime area right now. One thing I did was put 911 at the very top of my contact list in my phone so it is instantly accessible.
posted by fake at 9:51 AM on September 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

You want to be very careful choosing your brand and canister type with pepper spray for the reasons fake lists. Some are better designed than others to prevent blowback toward you while still firing a wide enough radius of spray that you don't need to be closer than 5ft to the guy and have super precise aim. Sometimes the ones with wider range are labeled bear spray, which may or may not be legal in your jurisdiction.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:57 AM on September 3, 2011

I still think you should file a report with the police for SO MANY good reasons, but especially so they can get a picture of the guy from the coffee shop's camera.

If this guy is a creepy predator looking for opportunities to do bad things, he one step closer to being stopped if you make a report. If someone else has previously been threatened or assaulted and your coffee shop footage matches other pics or drawings, or rings a bell for the police department - win.

Please take care of this. Thanks.
posted by jbenben at 11:07 AM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please, please, please, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, where someone is really giving you a creeper vibe and then looks like they're going to follow you, do NOT leave a public place alone.

Follow a group of other women, ask an employee, but don't go outside by yourself. I've been followed by men before, and I will not go to my car alone, where I will be vulnerable. This happened to me inside a local store. i notice a guy following me and made a couple trips from one end to the other; clearly it wasn't just coincidence. I am the independent type, but I went and spoke to an employee, who walked out with me. Other women in the area had been abducted recently and I didn't want to take chances.

Maybe this guy was harmless, maybe not, but your safety comes first!
posted by misha at 12:00 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Mod note: derail needs to stop, sorry folks
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:53 PM on September 3, 2011

Don't be embarrassed to ask a male employee for an escort to your car. I have never been turned down when making this request.

Don't think that "talking on your cell phone" will deter a pervert. I tried this myself once and let me tell you, a crackhead on a dark street does not care (or even register, probably) that the young woman he is following and making obscene remarks to has a phone to her ear.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:26 PM on September 3, 2011

After a day of junking with two of my nieces, I drop the renter car off at midnight. A car that turned in just ahead of me and took a wide loop around the lot pulls up directly behind me in the next stall back. I tell the kids to sit tight. I want to get a look at who's coming out of this car (which is covered with dust like they've been four-wheeling.) No, you can't always tell by looking, but sometimes it's information. We sit, they sit. Now I see there is a car (not a renter, but in the renter lot) next to them and it has someone in it.

"OK," I said, "I'll drop it off tomorrow." We leave the way we came in.
Now! Was I--

1. Paranoid
2. Overreacting
3. Prudent

My friend Brad said, "I'll go with prudent. The odds are that you were safe, but the odds are 100% that getting out of the car would be a gamble."

I don't even care if I was overreacting!

I think you did all the right things. No man with a brain should try to talk to a woman when she's alone and/or at night. And if he's all that harmless, he should certainly BTFO when she brushes him off. That creepy feeling you get, though, is millions of years of evolution talking. It's only our rational mind that tries to talk us out of it. And yes, The Gift of Fear is an awesome book.
posted by Prairie at 8:34 PM on September 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think 911 would have been appropriate in this situation. I have asked police officers several times over the years about the criteria for 911 versus non-emergency numbers and every time the answer has boiled down to "911 if you want an officer, in the flesh, to respond." Every answer also had an implicit component of "the non-emergency number is not taken seriously" i.e. if you're calling about a potential assault or threat, even if the situation seems to have diffused, call 911 to make sure a report gets taken. I'm not sure about OP's jurisdiction, but here if you call 911 and state "I want to see an officer" they pretty much have to send one sooner or later.

People get hung up on the definition of "emergency."

This was an emergency to the OP.
posted by werkzeuger at 12:55 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

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