When I was a child, hide-and-seek was one of my favorite games. Hiding in dark alleyways and having an amused fear of being found was innocent child’s play.
As an adult, the game has taken on another meaning for me.
I was followed a few days ago around Main Street. It was in the early afternoon and I was walking alone. The man initially called out to me, but I ignored him. I decided to walk faster and contemplated whether I should enter any stores to avoid him. But it was too late. I heard his footsteps creep behind me, and soon he was at my side.
“Hey, what’s your name?” he said.
I stammered and shook my head.
He stands confused. “You have a boyfriend?” he asked.
The perfect question for the script I mastered. Yes, I lied. He thought about my response, and asked again. I nodded more confidently and hurried away; I wouldn’t give him the time to accept my answer.
Later that day, I told my friend that I was followed. He told me the man could have just been walking behind me. But from experience, that’s rarely the case. In a recent study of 2,000 adults, 34 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported being followed, according to Stop Street Harassment. This means as a woman, I have a one in three chance of being followed.
That is just unacceptable.
I was 16 when I experienced my first real danger. I knew I was being followed because the man copied my route home. In a neighborhood where everybody knew each other, I could not recognize him.
To play it safe, I made a detour. Arriving at my “destination,” I pretended to look at my phone while he passed me. For a second, I thought I was just paranoid and headed back home. But as I turned the corner, I realized he was walking towards me again.
I quickly abandoned my plans to go home. At a crowded intersection, I took advantage of my invisibility and made it to a restaurant. From the restaurant’s window, I looked for him.
He was on the corner searching for me. I stayed in that restaurant until my neighbor came to pick me up. After that incident, I carry pepper spray for self-protection.
In New York State, following a person in public is classified as a class-B misdemeanor. But when I was followed for the first time, I didn’t have a description of my follower and I was walking too randomly to give an accurate location to call for help. The law only states a consequence, but it fails to understand that between debating paranoia and danger, there isn’t enough time to call the police.
When my little sister turned 13, I began to teach her what to do when she encountered these situations. I taught her “when” and not “if,” because I knew it would happen to her, as it already has. I taught her the world where car windows and store glasses become mirrors, malls become safe havens and keys become weapons.
I taught her my version of hide-and-seek – the one where seekers are the pursuers and the hiders are the potential victims. The rule and thrill of the game is still there, but the fear is now real. Run, hide and don’t get found.