Countless women shared instances of strangers pretending to know them just to scare away stalkers, in vulnerable situations.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 21, 2021. It has since been updated.
Trigger warning: This story contains themes of sexual harassment that some readers may find disturbing.
Having a stranger follow you while you are on your own can be harrowing and scary. Women experience this with alarming frequency and it's quite paralyzing. A survey by Gallup showed that 45% of women in the U.S. do not feel safe walking alone at night compared with 27% of men feeling the same. The issue came to the fore when Sarah Everard, a British woman, was killed while walking home from a friend’s flat in London on March 3, 2021. There were widespread protests in the U.K. in the wake of her death over gender minorities feeling unsafe in public spaces. A YouGov poll revealed that 86% of women aged between 18 and 24 have been the victim of sexual harassment, reported The Guardian.
A Twitter thread revealed how women went out of their way to look out for each other when potentially followed or stalked by men. Many opened up about personal incidents where women looked out for them and guided them during dangerous situations. The thread started after a woman pointed out how people could help a woman in such situations. “If a girl suddenly acts as if she knows you in public and acts like you are friends, go along with it, she could be in danger.” This admission was followed by many women sharing their personal experiences of being stalked, saved and protecting others who they found in vulnerable positions.
If a girl suddenly acts as if she knows you in public and acts like you’re friends, go along w it she could be in danger— 𝓜🇨🇩 (@mxrixm_nk) July 31, 2020
Weird look. I felt uncomfortable. There was only one other person that I kinda knew in the elevator. It was another student that I’ve never talk to before. But I made sure to say hello to him out loud so they new that I wasn’t alone. He said hello back. Him and I both heardthem-— AKILI🦂 🇹🇹 (@_SHEERIOS__) August 1, 2020
some men here really went out of their way to make a fool of themselves w their misogynistic opinions, yes there’s been times were it could be a set up, but this has actually gotten some women out of scary situations. so if you misogynistic men don’t like wt I said LEAVE IDC— 𝓜🇨🇩 (@mxrixm_nk) August 1, 2020
This happened to my son in a subway station. Young lady ran up and grabbed his arm, she was being chased.— Lisa Coffman (@lrc2009) August 1, 2020
Or YOU could. One time. Woman walked up to me and hugged me and asked how my mom was and then after a couple minutes she whispered she had noticed a man watching/following me and wanted to scare him off. She then walked me to my destination. I was only 14. https://t.co/NAMA8VZzp7— altadena🌊 (@gleefulthoughts) August 1, 2020
1 time I was walking home from school& I stopped 2 use my phone in the middle of the sidewalk. A lady pulled next to me and started asking me if I was okay and if I needed a way home bc some man was following me for a min& I wasn’t looking. She waited with me until someone came— crisssy☁️ (@crisscrisssss) August 2, 2020
“This is a human rights crisis. It’s just not enough for us to keep saying ‘this is too difficult a problem for us to solve’ – it needs addressing now,” said Claire Barnett, executive director of UN Women UK. “We are looking at a situation where younger women are constantly modifying their behavior in an attempt to avoid being objectified or attacked, and older women are reporting serious concerns about personal safety if they ever leave the house in the dark – even during the daytime in winter.”
Been looking for us all over, and they were happy they found us. When they first walked my dad and I were confused, but once they started talking me and my dad instantly played our part, I was their sister, and he was their dad! They kept looking behind them, and seemed nervous— AmberLUVV (@amberm_am) August 1, 2020
I said “no I’m waiting for an Uber” so he drove away, 2 minutes later he was watching me from his car, Got out and tried to pull me to “show me something” so I saw these girls and I said “Oh hey there you are I was looking for you” they went along with it— Tyleign (@TyleignOmbres) August 1, 2020
-walked up behind them, heard them, and walked past two Huge men to grab me and take me to a stranger's car pretending she knew him. Wasn't until the dudes moved along that I realized they didn't know each other & she was just operating on pure panic as well, I'm still blown away— Alistair 🔥🍾 (@ticksandbuzzes) August 4, 2020
I was really scared and was worried the guy was going to follow me when I got off the bus, so even just her looking at me made me feel a little better. If you see someone getting harassed, even just striking up small talk can help them feel safer— Mary Kate🍓 (@wanderinggstars) August 3, 2020
In my experience men harass people in public more often when the person appears to be alone, if you insert yourself into the situation they may back down— Mary Kate🍓 (@wanderinggstars) August 3, 2020
She lost her friends and this dude was creeping on her. I told her to take all the time she needs to find her friends. She came back with them later and gave me a big hug for making her feel safe. Would do it again without hesitation.— 🎄Raeloe🎄 (@RaeloeGaming) August 1, 2020
also please if anyone asks you where a coworker is/ what time they get off; act like you have no idea who they are , even if you know. regardless if they end up knowing them, it puts someone at risk.— gavin🌱🪐🦋 (@gavinxstone) August 3, 2020
I started going to concerts by myself when I was 12/13 and the amount of times I had a random woman in her 20’s walk up and act like we’re best friends only to have her say 5 min later “I watched this older guy follow you around the venue and wanted to make sure you were safe”— roxy (@loud_witch) August 3, 2020
Ultimately, it's men's behavior that has to change for women to feel space in public spaces. One of the major talking points in the wake of Everard's death was to hold men accountable for their actions. In a society that's quick to shift blame onto women for every instance of assault, women are raising their voices to remind everyone that there are never any expectations for men to not rape, assault, or murder women. While women are constantly told to take precautions and listed the many ways in which they can avoid death and rape, men are never instructed on how to just be basic human beings. Police faced a severe backlash after telling women in Clapham to not go out alone in the wake of Everard's death. They were accused of once again shifting the responsibility of attacks on women away from men.
For all those saying "Women shouldn't walk alone" Women should have the freedom to walk wherever we want whenever we want Sadly we know this isn't possible #SarahEverard #TooManyWomen pic.twitter.com/ZFx8q2jwVJ— @Aoifs123 (@Aoifs123) March 11, 2021
Another important thread asked for suggestions on what men can do to make women feel safer. "I live less than five minutes from where Sarah Everard went missing. Everyone is on high alert. Aside from giving as much space as possible on quieter streets and keeping face visible, is there anything else men can reasonably do to reduce the anxiety/spook factor?" asked Stuart Edwards. Women responded by telling them the many ways in which men could be helpful in such situations.
This is an excellent question and I wish more men would ask it. Cross the street to avoid walking behind a woman. Give all women space. Never run close to them when jogging, esp in the dark - I'm endlessly astonished at how many men do this. Offer to walk female friends home.— Fiona Sturges (@FionaSturges) March 10, 2021
What a lovely kind tweet. Thanks. Basically never ever walk closely behind a woman. Cross the street to avoid this if necessary. I was attacked from behind once and even tho it was decades ago I still get freaked out if anyone walks too closely behind me. Thank you.— Laura Marcus (@MissLauraMarcus) March 10, 2021
If a woman is walking towards you, let her stay in her path and get out of her way rather than making her move. I consciously walk in the safest part of the path with access to light/exits and so many times a man has forced me to walk between him and a wall.— Julie Cohen (@julie_cohen) March 10, 2021
The fact that you’re aware & asking this is fantastic. Talk to other men about it, as many are oblivious. If you witness even low-key harassment, call it out. Everyone pretends not to notice the creeps making women uncomfortable. It only emboldens them & normalises the behaviour.— Rebecca Vincent (@rebecca_vincent) March 10, 2021
Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, said one of the primary issues was that women had no faith in an “utterly broken” system and the normalization of such behavior. She added that many men still continue to view women as public property. “At the root of all this is the normalization of the idea that a woman’s body in a public place is simply a public property and young women just have to put up with it. We have to shatter that normalization through policy and in the press if we want to change the picture,” Bates added.
If you are being subjected to sexual assault, or know of anyone who is, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673)