Every time I leave the safety of my car to walk the city streets, I’m afraid.
When I admitted this to my fiancé the other day — that I never forget my phone in case I need to call for help, that I clutch my keys close in case I need to defend myself, that my heart beats a little faster until I’m home behind locked doors — he was surprised. He didn’t realize that I, like many women, feel unsafe when I’m alone in public.
I felt this way even before a stranger jumped into my car with me.
Car locks recommended.
As I backed my car into the alley, a man shouted at me and raced behind my vehicle, forcing me to brake.
“Someone’s trying to rob me! Just back there!” He pointed down the alley, though I couldn’t see anyone and it was broad daylight. “You’ve gotta let me in! Just drive me a couple blocks away! Just a couple blocks!”
“I’m not letting you in my car,” I said through the window I had rolled down ever so slightly. He attempted to open the passenger door. None of my neighbors were outside for me to call out to, but I felt relatively safe inside the locked vehicle.
He kept insisting that he was being robbed and needed to get in the car, his eyes wild. After trying the door a few more times, he stumbled into the yard of my cousin’s house and ran around the front.
I wasn’t sure if my cousin and her kids were inside or if they had gone for a walk, so I put my car in park and called her — I wanted her to know there was a potentially crazy man running around and not to let the kids outside. There was no answer, so I left a message.
The stranger came running back full-tilt. I hadn’t expected him to return. I really wished there was someone else — anyone else — around.
“Let me in! You’ve gotta let me in!” he pleaded, trying the door again. It opened, and he jumped in. My heart leaped into my throat. I had forgotten that putting my car in park automatically unlocks the doors.
“Go, go, go!” he shouted, motioning frantically to the wheel.
“Get out of my car!” My stomach was churning. In a matter of seconds, but what felt like ages, I turned off the engine, pulled the keys out, grabbed my purse, and leaped out of the car. “I’m calling 911!”
I made a beeline for the back porch, having no idea what he would do without the barrier of steel and plastic between us. My fingers shook as I dialed. I looked back from the porch, deathly afraid he had followed me. He hadn’t — in fact, he was just sitting in the passenger seat of the unmoving car as if he didn’t know what to do now. A moment later, he bounded out and ran away into the alley.
The fear is real.
Why was I so afraid? Because most guys are naturally stronger than me. He could have overpowered me if he’d wanted to, beaten me, stolen from me, raped me. One of my male friends said if the same thing had happened to him, he would have just stayed in the car and ordered the guy out. The thought of staying or fighting never entered my mind.
Rape culture is a term you may be familiar with, especially considering the #metoo movement. Rape culture doesn’t necessarily mean a woman has been the victim of a sexual assault. It means the fear is real but men may dismiss it. It means the victim gets blamed or her situation is diminished. And it means that ignoring women’s lack of consent is normalized in popular culture. Every woman has had some sort of experience of this type, even if it’s a short moment of panic because a man is walking close behind her on an otherwise empty sidewalk or she’s picking up her pace because of catcalls or ignoring an offensive comment.
It may be especially prevalent for single women, who often go about their lives alone and return to empty homes. It’s also challenging for those who grew up in purity culture, which places the responsibility for our abuse, or even for our fear, on the female’s shoulders for not dressing or acting properly.
Jesus set an example.
I’m thankful Jesus set the bar for respecting women, speaking to them and listening to their concerns in public, even though doing so was counter-cultural. It was not normal for a Rabbi to talk to women, but he did so again and again, acknowledging their acts of worship (Mark 14:13-9), healing their suffering (Mark 5:25-34), teaching them (Luke 10:38-42). He even stopped an adulterous woman from being stoned (John 8:1-11), a punishment that was “justified” according to Old Testament law.
I’m thankful I have a God who set such a high standard, and a man in my life who listens to me and hears my fears. I want other single women to feel heard too, even if they don’t have a partner to share this burden with. I encourage others to follow Jesus’ example, making places of safety for women in our churches. And for the women who understand my fears: I admire your bravery and Christ stands with you.