By Ally O'Connor
During the second week of my freshman year at Santa Clara, I was walking in the neighborhood next to campus to clear my head from hours of research for a paper. I was wearing sweatpants, a purple Santa Clara t-shirt, and no makeup. The sun was shining, the weather was warm, and the air still smelled like summer; it felt good to step away from my new home for a little bit. The home-to-dorm transition can be at times overwhelming.
As I continued to walk, a stranger called out to me. I turned and saw a middle-aged man standing next to a car. He winked and asked me if I needed a ride. I immediately said that I did not, was not interested, and needed to be somewhere. I began to walk faster. When I thought I was out of his sight, I began to run back towards campus. After a little while, once I could see SCU, I exhaled and returned to a more comfortable pace. I thought it was over.
However, seconds later, a car came screeching towards me. The same man who had spoken before yelled out the window: “Get in the car!” Without any hesitation, I screamed “No!” and sprinted away from him. My pulse was racing, my palms were sweating, and I was absolutely terrified. As I ran, I pulled out my phone and dialed 911. The man continued to drive after me and to scream with intermittent profanity that I get into his car immediately. Then, I heard him slam on his brakes to stop the car, and saw over my shoulder that he opened his door. I was so scared. Fortunately, at that same instant, a group of students turned a corner and walked in our direction. When the man saw the students, he slammed the car door shut, made a screeching u-turn and sped off in the opposite direction. Even when he had driven away, I continued to run. I finally took a breath when I was in front of the Mission on campus. I collapsed onto a bench and realized I was crying and that my whole body shaking.
When the police arrived, the two officers treated me very kindly and asked numerous questions. What color was the car? What did he look like? Do you remember what he was wearing? I did my best to answer their inquiries and push away my nerves. After I had thoroughly explained the incident, the officers informed me that the driver’s description was familiar. Evidently, other SCU women had called in with similar stories. He explained that these cases are usually never just a single incident — sexual predators lurk around college campuses harassing and attempting to assault young women.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time I had faced sexual harassment, and even worse, this was not the most extreme. I had my first experience of sexual harassment and assault when I was just thirteen. Now that I am almost twenty, I can describe hundreds of incidents where I was afraid for my safety, from men cat-calling on the street to much worse. All of it is wrong. All I had done that day was take a walk.
I am not alone. Every day, women experience these inappropriate, terrifying, and violating situations. A few weeks ago, the actress Alyssa Milano used her Twitter account to invite women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted to tweet the words “#MeToo.” Within twenty-four hours, the hashtag had been tweeted almost a half million times. This movement brought a terrible reality to light. Women, and many men, came forward with stories like mine — moments when they had been afraid, violated, or treated inappropriately. Unfortunately, uncovering the issue does not solve it, but bringing sexual harassment and assault to the forefront of social conversation is a step in the right direction. My story is not special, and it does not stand alone. It is just one of the few hundred times this has occurred to me, and even larger, I am only one of the millions of women who have experienced moments like these.