on breakdowns and “being vigilant”

Image via Flickr user Jeff Karpala.

In the past 11 days, I have received 3 campus safety alerts about women being assaulted on the streets of the campus where I work.  This news article from the local paper mentions two of them.  Women, walking down the street, attacked from behind.

Now, maybe I’m a little jumpier than some people because I have been a victim before, but it was with this news in my mind that I had to walk alone, in the dark, after my class last night.  Jon had taken the car to work yesterday morning, because it was pouring rain.  The hospital is three quarters of a mile from my office, and I walk there at least once a week after work to volunteer, so we figured it would be no big deal for me to get the car after class last night.  I hadn’t anticipated how much darker it is at 7 pm than 5.

Things running through my mind as I walked that .7 mi: walk fast, look around you, make sure your cell phone is in an outer pocket in case you need it, bag closed so as not to tempt robbers, don’t stop, stay out of the shadows, maybe you should hold your keys in case you need to use them as a weapon, why oh why don’t you have some pepper spray.

I was so relieved to reach the hospital and the brightly lit garage. Thankfully Jon had parked very close to the elevator. I got into the car, heart still pounding, and locked the doors. I am supposed to get free parking because I’m a hospital volunteer, but my badge is expired. The volunteer office told me not to worry about it, because no one ever really looks at our badges anyway.  Unfortunately, the parking attendant was on some sort of a power trip, and was concerned I might be a med student, using an out of date badge in order to park for free.  She decided to charge me $20, and she didn’t care that I showed her my work ID, to prove I was not a med student. I started crying.  She told me to stop, sarcastically asked if I needed a hug. I tearfully tried to come up with an explanation, told her it had been a long day.  I felt stupid for crying over $20, it’s not like it was a speeding ticket.

Later I realized why I got so upset over the $20 parking fee.  Because I thought I had reached the safe zone, only to be treated badly, and this triggered all my anxiety and anger and fear to just come rolling out in tears.  It took me a while after I got home to calm down.

And what, according to that news article, am I supposed to be doing with the news of these attacks? “We’re telling everyone to be aware of their surroundings and to be vigilant.”

It’s enough to make me want to cry all over again.

Not only does this comment suggest that somehow, those two women who were attacked were victimized because they were somehow not “vigilant,” it completely ignores the reality of being female in public. When am I not effing vigilant? Society has done a great job of teaching me that just by being a woman, I’m at risk, there are places I can’t go, times I shouldn’t be out, things I shouldn’t wear, zones where I am not safe, reasons for me to be constantly looking over my shoulder.  I’m vigilant all the time, and it gets to be exhausting. I can’t afford not to be vigilant, but even when I am, and something happens to me, you can bet your sweet bippy that someone’s going to say I should have been vigilant.

Public safety says they’ve expanded their patrols and offer on campus escorts, but the escort wouldn’t do me much good when I’m walking to somewhere off campus.  My boss, who teaches the night I have class and the night I volunteer, told me that from now on if I need to get to the hospital, he will drive me.  I really appreciate the offer, and will probably take him up on it, but at the same time, I’m so frustrated to need a man with me in order to be safe.

So I’m going to buy some pepper spray.  And I’m going to ask campus safety if, in light of these attacks, they could maybe offer a self defense course.  And if they can’t, I’ll probably take one elsewhere.  And yeah, I’ll be vigilant, just like always. Damn lot of good that will do me though.

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