Monica Alarcon-Najarro, Contributing Writer
This story discusses details of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It may be triggering for some readers.
It was a brisk evening when my roommate and I decided to walk home together from a house 13 minutes away on campus. Our discussion was filled with laughter and lighthearted conversation as we passed Cary Street Gym and headed toward our home.
I noticed a man with a camouflage jacket and black jeans standing on the sidewalk staring at his phone. His daunting shadow followed our trail, to which my roommate then nudged me and quietly whispered to keep an eye on the guy who seemed to be following us.
As we continued walking, the man yelled and asked, “Do you girls go to VCU?” At this moment, my heart sank. I knew, as women, this could end one of two ways: my roommate and I could get sexually assaulted or harassed. I had always been taught to never say anything factual to someone who I don’t personally know, especially a man on the street.
The next few moments were a blur as my mind was racing to think of what could happen next. I vaguely remember him asking where we lived and my roommate asking him why he was following us. My roommate remarked that he could either get pepper sprayed or leave us alone. “Watch your next step,” I added. He crossed the street and left us alone.
The way this encounter ended is not the same for most women around the country and the world. As women, we are never truly left alone.
According an analysis from the World Health Organization, from 2000 to 2018 across 161 areas globally, 1 in 3 women “have been subjected to physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner sexual violence or both.”
That same analysis reports that 6% of women globally have been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner.
For a woman, the streets at night are an unthinkable conversation to have. The endless hypotheticals of whether I could get kidnapped, sexually harassed or assaulted are ones that I avoid just by deciding not to go out at night without a friend.
Even in broad daylight women are harassed, whether it be getting honked at or getting catcalled. Regardless of the clothes they’re wearing, women are still sexualized.
It’s shocking to know that a man can dehumanize a woman solely because of her body, causing them to act in ways that are disrespectful toward women.
To feel uncomfortable in your own skin after being harassed is a disgusting feeling I would never want anyone to experience. As women, we are conditioned to be cautious and to protect ourselves from men. Yet, why aren’t men ever taught to treat people with respect?
It’s common decency to respect another human being and to not shout degrading names as they walk by. After all, it seems that women are always treated as objects, whether it be due to the hypersexualization of our bodies on social media or the idea that men think they can do whatever they want without consequences.
According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN, college women ages 18-24 are three times more at risk to experience sexual violence. They are also twice as likely to get sexually assaulted than robbed.
These women have families — they could be your sister or your mother. As far as we’ve come in society, you would think that there would be a higher push to protect women.
I urge all of you to always make sure that your friends, regardless of gender, never go home alone on campus.
As of now, VCU has over 350 Emergency Reporting Telephone Systems which are located throughout campus. These systems are designed to be accessible if you need to get in contact with the VCU Police Emergency Communications Center if you are in danger.
Students can also download the RamSafe app on their phones to get a ride home safely. Their operation hours on Monroe Park campus are from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., seven days a week.
If you’ve been a victim of sexual assault or harassment, you are not alone. There are resources on campus that provide nontherapeutic support such as VCU’s advocacy services, which is available to students and is completely confidential from VCU police and the university.
As a community, we have to stick together to keep each other safe. Notify the police if you see strange activity happening around campus and make sure your peers get home safe. Sexual violence is real and victims should not be hidden in the shadows of their predators.