On Being Followed

In my post yesterday I mentioned a scary experience I had Friday night, and this morning I want to share the entire story.

I drove the to grocery store around 6:30 PM–Andrew was on his way back in town from a work function, and I needed to buy some snacks for when we had family over the next day.  Because it wasn’t my normal grocery store run, I repeatedly forgot items, backtracked, changed my mind, walked back to replace an item, etc.  I was all over the store.

On one of the first aisles I noticed a man, probably in his early 30’s, come to a dead stop and wait for me to walk around him.  My first thought was, “Well, that’s annoying.  Don’t block traffic, buddy,” but then he kept ending up very close to me, wherever I walked on the aisle.

I moved on, but no matter which aisle I walked down, this man would soon be there too.  If it had been a normal trip to the grocery store, I might not have thought anything of it, but as I said before, it was a very back-and-forth trip.  If we’d both been on the aisles for produce, meat, cereal eggs, etc., it wouldn’t have seemed odd, but how strange that this man would also be looking at mixed nuts, chip dip, pre-baked cookies–no, cookie dough–wine, chips, probably don’t need that bottle of wine…  Again, I was all over the place, and so was he.

I checked out, and as I walked to the door I turned around, and the man had also just checked out and was not far behind me.  He had one small bag after 30-45 minutes, which indicated to me that he did not come to the store to buy groceries.  The red flags were waving in my head.  My gut told me something was definitely not right.

It was still fairly light outside, and the parking lot was far from vacant.  I had parked to the right of the door, so I started walking left to see if the guy would follow me; no way in hell was I going to lead this guy to my car.  He followed.  I kept walking, and at one point when I looked over my shoulder, he was gone.  I figured he’d given up, so I made a right turn to head towards my car.  As I crossed a row of cars, however, I saw him standing by his car, just watching me.  I immediately turned around and walked back to the store.

I stood by the large front windows, hiding behind a wall, but peeking out for a few minutes.  I saw the man pull in front of the store very slowly, looking around.  Then he drove down the closest row, and backed into a parking spot from which he could see the front door.

At this point, I should have told a store manager.  I should have called the police and let them talk to him, and if it turned out he was a nice guy trying to ask me out in a very creepy way, I’d laugh, and he’d probably never make that mistake again.  But I didn’t.  I was ready to get home with my groceries, so I though I’d try to sneak back out in a crowd.  The moment I walked out the front door, he saw me and slowly pulled out of his parking spot.  At this point, I wasn’t scared;  I was mad.  He pulled up behind me as I walked, and finally I’d had enough.  I stopped, turned around, saw that his window was down, and said, “Are you just following me?” accompanied by a look that I hope said, Do not mess with me.  I think it caught him off guard, and he muttered, “Oh, uh, no,” before driving past me and very slowly leaving the parking lot.  I assume he was looking in his rear view mirror, still trying to see which car was mine, so I didn’t move until he was completely out of sight (at which point I ran, threw the bags in the car, and drove out of there as fast as possible, checking behind me frequently as I drove.)

I called my brother and Andrew to share the weirdness, and Andrew urged me to call the police.  I did, and they sent an officer to our house to do the report.  What’s funny is that even though my instincts were telling me something was very wrong, there was still part of my brain saying, “You’re overreacting.  This guy’s probably just trying to get your phone number.  Don’t waste the police department’s time with this.”  Thankfully, the officer that came to our house was so kind and said I absolutely did the right thing by calling.

Andrew and I talked about the situation at great length that night.  I think he was more scared than I was (“I don’t want you to get taken!”) which came out in the form of him criticizing some of the things I did (Um, like going back outside when I knew the guy was there waiting.  Admittedly, not my best move.)  Following those conversations, I did some research.

What to do if you think you are being followed:
Stay alert.  Be aware of your surroundings.  The first step is noticing the guy is creeping.
Trust your gut.  Instincts are real;  don’t reason yourself into a more dangerous situation by thinking, “I’m probably overreacting.”
Get to/stay in a public place.  An attacker does not want to get caught, so they probably will not try anything, say, in the grocery store.
Scream/draw attention to yourself.  Again, the person does not want to be seen or caught, so by making noise, you are putting his operation in jeopardy. (Andrew was upset that I confronted the guy, but I maintain that it served this purpose, among others.  When I spoke up, other people in the parking lot around us heard and looked right at him.)
Don’t go home (or in my case, to your car.)  You don’t want to lead them to your house–especially if you’ll be home alone.  Go to a public place, or better yet, a police station.
Don’t stop moving.  You can call the police and run at the same time!

Stay safe, everyone!

Has anyone ever had a similar experience?  Other tips for what to do in this situation?

7 thoughts on “On Being Followed

  1. Scary times Catherine, I’m not sure what I would have done in that situation but I suspect that I would have done something similar (except maybe confront. I’m a scaredy cat! On a little side note, I’ve noticed that only the smallest girls out of my friendship group are the ones who can confront strangers – one of my 5ft 1 besties was pick pocketed and chased the 6ft + man down the street in public and shouted ‘Why would you do such a thing?! Why?!’ to which he apologised, and emptied out his pockets infront of a cheering crowd. Nice one!)… So perhaps you are right in that confronting served a purpose (though I would say as long as it is infront of plenty of bystanders)

    I’ve been with a friend before when we’ve been followed abroad (in a sleepy village in France) – it was by three french guys who were in their 20s (we were teenagers) and clearly realised we were scared – in the end we had to seek solace in a pub (in which we unfortunately couldn’t communicate with the owners with our poor french!) and had to call her grandparents to pick us up. Her gran told us later that she thinks we should always carry aerosol deodorant in our handbags to spray people in their eyes. Not sure if that’s legal?!

    On a more serious note, glad you’re safe 🙂

    • Hahaha, I love that your friend did that!! Your experience in France sounds very scary. I think spraying aerosol deodorant in someone’s eyes is legal if it’s self-defense…at least in the US! On that note, I think I may start carrying pepper spray.

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