Last night, as we took the train back from a friend’s birthday outing, a young man got on the train who instantly put me on alert. For a while, I tried to figure out what it was – his oddly clenched jaw, the sly look of his narrowed eyes (or were those just his eyes?), the constant readjusting of his over-large sweatpants, standing too close to others on a car that was only semi-crowded? I decided he was probably a pickpocket, and decided to keep my eye on him.
At one point, I lost track of him in the larger shuffle at 42nd street. I eventually saw him again, sitting across the car from me with one hand on his knee and the other on the seat near his hip, almost underneath a sleeping woman’s behind. Then I knew I was right to be on guard, but he wasn’t a pickpocket: he was a creep.
As I watched him slowly move his hand further over and her attempts to shrink away after his touch woke her, I got angrier and angrier. How come nobody else sees this? What is wrong with this guy?! I wanted so badly to say something and start a fight, and 10 years ago, I probably would have. Instead, I confirmed with my husband what was happening, and decided that it was the girl who was worth interacting with, not the guy.
She looked exhausted, like the way you might look after a 12 hour shift, and horrified. So I got up and gave her my seat, between my husband and another woman. When we got off the train a few stops later, I asked another girl on the train to take my husband’s seat. The relief in the “thank you” as we left almost made me cry.
As someone who lived in Manhattan as a kid, spent 2 months every year for 12 years after that back in Manhattan, and now lives in the NYC metro again, I have good urban instincts. They’re not all instincts though; it’s gut feelings as amplified by small things you’ve learned to notice through experiencing them over and over. When women talk about feeling “creeped out”, especially by an individual, we are frequently challenged to provide some kind of definitive proof. Even more than that one guy pissed me off, this enrages me. What is proof in these cases – waiting to take a picture of a guy after he’s managed to get his hand up somebody’s skirt instead of doing something about it before it gets to that point? What a horrific thing to believe in needing.
I had an instinct and the chance to act on it in a small and safe way when all signs pointed to it being correct, so I took it. I hope that woman made it home safely. Since creeps aren’t going away, and their behavior frequently excused (somebody nearby finally noticed and said that the guy must have been high, like that makes it okay), I also hope that we can support erring on the side of caution, especially when it costs us so little to do so. Trust instincts that come from a lifetime of experience. Please.