An Open Letter to the Man Who Harassed Me from His Car

To the man in the silver sedan,     

I don't know if you remember me. We only met once and we weren't exactly properly introduced. It was a hot August morning. I was the small brunette girl, wearing shorts and a tank top. I’ve been told that I don’t look older than 15, but I can tell you now that I’m almost 20. I was walking home from Dunkin Donuts so I had iced coffee in my hand. We met on my block, about two houses down from where I live.

 You must have noticed something about me, because you passed me once and you drove slowly and stared in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. Then, you turned around a pulled up next to me. I was startled because I had headphones in and was listening to music. Your window was rolled down and I could see that you were at least 25 years old.

     “No, I am not interested. I am walking away now. Goodbye,” I said to you, trying to sound as stern as possible. You looked stunned. You must have seen me walking away, but you turned around and pulled up next to me again.

     “You didn’t even know what I was going to say,” you yelled at me out of your window.

      I repeated myself in a stern voice once again, “I don’t care. I am not interested. Goodbye.”

Did you see me running away from you? Surely, if you didn’t see me walking away before, you had to be sure that I was trying to get away from you now. That didn’t stop you though. You saw me running, but you turned around and pulled up to me once again. I was focused on getting away, but I could make out some of the profanities you screamed at me. As I ran onto my lawn and up to the front door, I could see you turning around once again. What did you have left to say to me?

Do you know what my first thought was when you pulled up next to me, before you even spoke? 

      What I do and say next will decide if this man will kill me.

So when I spoke the first time, in that stern voice, the one that made you call me a cunt, it was masking absolute terror.  I was trying to hide the fact that you, the man in the silver sedan, are actually my worst fear come to life. You are what I fear every time guys beep at me in their car; every time they ask me to smile for them; every time they make inappropriate gestures while staring at me.

I feared that someone like you would pull up next to me. I feared that you would drag me off the street and into your car. I feared that you would violate me. Maybe you would run me over in your silver sedan when it was all over and leave me for dead. I would be all, but powerless to stop you. I am 5’1”, 115 lbs. How could I stop a much larger man who was essentially driving a weapon from doing whatever he wanted to me?

Did you know that is what I was thinking when you pulled up next to me? Probably not.

You probably didn’t know that you came from a long line of men who have harassed me. You didn’t know that the first time I can remember feeling like I was vulnerable to sexual assault was when I was 10 years old and the boys on the bus were making jokes about who would get to touch my breasts. You didn’t know that, for me, you represent the very real possibility of going from 3 in 4 college-aged women to 1 in 4.

You didn’t know any of this, but you didn’t have to know it to hear me say, “No,” not once, but twice. This knowledge was not a prerequisite to seeing me run away. You knew that you were frightening me and that your attention was unwanted. At the very least, you could see, plain as day that I was too young for you.

Why didn’t this stop you? Why is my voice saying “No,” a challenge for you? How many other girls have you invalidated? Will men like you continue to ignore me when I speak? How many of you will I have to endure in my lifetime? If I have a daughter, will she meet someone like you?

I think that the answers to these questions might scare me more than our meeting.

So, man in the silver sedan, I have promised myself that this is the last time I will cry over you. This is the last time I will relive the fear that you forced upon me. If I have one hope for you, it’s that you will learn to respect women’s voices and their right to their own bodies. I hope that the next time you approach a girl who isn’t interested, you will walk away the first time she says “No.”

If this can happen, maybe one day, if I have a daughter, she will be able to grow up and never know what it’s like to meet you.

Sincerely,

Ali Senal