Prey You’re Not
I watched this HBO movie about a stalker and his prey. The last was a too nice girl who works at a camera store and lives alone. Her stalker seemed harmless enough, a college prof at that who befriended her. He eventually courted her, kept calling and showing up at all times, checking her schedules. She didn’t like him but was too polite. She started getting the creeps when he started touching her possessively. Eventually too, came the assault.
As the movie built up the guy’s escalating obsession with the girl, so did my temper. I was mad at the girl for being too nice and stupid, using diplomacy and tact when the guy obviously needs to be committed – to a mental institution. How could she think he was just “being nice” and “sweet” on her? I then realized we usually don’t look beyond “nice” to see that they are for reasons far less proper. By being nice and giving most any guy (or girl) the benefit of the doubt, we open ourselves to harassment.
We encounter some form of it every day. Walk past a bunch of construction workers and you get catcalls. A guy mumbles a sexual remark (worse, cops a feel) as he walks alongside. Some even brazenly stare, wink or leer. Someone seated next to you on the jeep leans way into your airspace -they do this by “hanging” onto the metal tube whatchamacallit that keeps you from bouncing clear off your seat, except they hang on to the one closest to you (at the trains it’s the leather strap that allows swaying into you) - or a knee is annoyingly close to yours. You get backed into at a crowded elevator. At work, there are the jokes and innuendos. There’d be one who is “a notorious flirt”. Everyone else didn’t seem to mind and you’re a prude if you do. So you let it ride.
What if someone singled you out? Someone you know, work and was constantly in contact with. We tend to trust people who are friends of friends too. In this country, everyone knows most everybody – just not as deep as they think they do. Plus, he would have laid the groundwork so your defenses are down. He starts being friendly. Caresses come next – he’s being a gentleman of course, helping you up escalators, letting you walk ahead, making a point. By the elbow, middle of your back, shoulder, a light touch here and there. He does that to everyone else, just being affectionate. He might say you two have a particular friendship and you go along, not seriously minding, no malice aforethought. It will be a series of “tests”, all innocent enough but one where he gauges how far he can go, how you would react, what you would allow. It would be impossible to read between the lines when the lines are blurred by your need to keep things cool. Until the advances go up a notch. You call him on it (tactfully yes) and he’d blink at your “paranoia”. You begin to wonder if you read it wrong. You’re not that irresistible nor his “type”. He is happily married. He is good looking enough to take his pick. He’s a friend. It’s not like he assaulted you. Not yet.
Then you go on maybe, avoid him or being alone with him. In any case things may get worse, you may even be blamed. He won’t be the subject of a scandal (comes to that) in a larger sense than you would be. In this country, machismo and the double standard are alive and kicking. More often than not you’d rather be silent than dragged through the legal and gossipy muck, only silence and meekness encourages him too.
You may complain or sue but before anything happens, you get all sorts of “well-meaning” friends and colleagues talking you down, laying out all the possible bad things and bad rep you’d get standing your ground alongside doubts that you didn’t bring it on yourself, encouraging it. Why hitch a ride, accept gifts, allow a detour to somewhere ostensibly to pick up something? Women always want something; walk, dress, talk, joke or be “sweet” a certain way and you’re asking for it. Why were you stupid enough not to see it coming? Never mind how perversely his twisted mind interpreted what you did.
So how do you avoid being prey? Hone your instincts. If you get the creeps, then he is one! The touch may not make you cringe at first but once it does, that’s a red flag. Don’t talk yourself out of what your instinct is telling you. Tell someone you can trust, is objective enough and not liable to avoid “situations” by letting it lie. Tell a guy friend (a real one). Believe in yourself. If you’re hungry for position or money or need to keep your job, try all means possible to be recognized for the work you do. It will be harder to walk away when these are at stake I know but all you can do is brace yourself, maintain a distance. Don’t let him sense desperation in you. Don’t always accept things at face value. If people say you’re being paranoid, tell them they’re not in the middle of it so they can’t know. Don’t justify his actions when your instincts are screaming at you to bail out. It’s all about the conquest – like the proverbial mountain, you’re there.
I’d rather err on the side of caution. After all, that HBO movie ended in an hour or more. You see everything unfold and resolve in that time. In real life, there’s more time for regret, and a lot more pain.
P.S. I wrote this piece 10 years ago, I forgot the title of that movie but I’ve seen so many variations of the plot in fiction and real life. I’ve saved myself this kind of grief a few times since! This year, my dad brought home a second hand copy of Gavin de Becker's “The Gift of Fear” and that made me even more aware of how we can guard ourselves against violence by picking up on a sense of “wrongness” in people, our surroundings and the ordinary things your danger instinct may have instantly recognized but your eye and your mind took precious time to connect. Paranoid, my foot! I’d rather kick him in the b---s!