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Image / Real-life Stories

‘He followed me (past many empty seats), sat directly opposite and stared intently at me’


By Amanda Cassidy
13th Feb 2022
‘He followed me (past many empty seats), sat directly opposite and stared intently at me’

Hundreds of women are sharing their experiences of the subtle threats posed, especially alone on public transport in an important Twitter thread that's gone viral. All pinpoint one common feeling. Amanda Cassidy reports

Dr Catherine Lovegood is a neuropsychologist and author of The Secret World of the Brain. A few days ago, she wrote a post on Twitter describing her experience on the Tube in London. The intimidation and fear she felt at the time has prompted an outpouring of stories from women about similar experiences.

She prefixes the experience, like most of us do, by describing how mundane this story probably is for so many women.

“I thought hard about sharing this story because it feels quite personal and secondly because this stuff happens every day and probably seems very trivial to many.”

She describes jumping onto the tube beside a man.

“He looked at me a bit oddly, so feeling a bit uncomfortable I walked down 2 full sections of the tube to find a seat away from him. He followed me (past many empty seats), sat directly opposite and stared intently at me. Many women will know well what goes though your mind at this point: the yoyo between thinking you must be imagining it and the creeping instinctive fear that you have become a target”

The man followed her, as she suspected he would, when she got off the train into a quiet station.

“So I started walking along the platform but then paused. This forced him to overtake me, so he also paused and looked over his shoulder (twice). He then also stopped walking. I pretended to look at my watch then just before the beeps went I jumped back on the train, giving him no time to reach the next door and get back on. I was shaken but I am fine. I am just grateful that I had my wits about me and that I was able to think my way through it.

I’ve no idea what his intentions were but the scary thing was that even on a busy train in central London, he was unperturbed. I worry about who was next but I had nothing to report to the police as I was so busy avoiding his gaze that couldn’t even say what he looked like”.

Dr Lovegood says herself that nothing actually happened. But that doesn’t take away from the threat that lingered long after she got home that night.

“Of course, I know I could have imagined the whole thing but over the years I’ve learned to trust my instincts. This has been a far less common occurrence in my 50s than it was in my 20s and I am so much better at coping with it, but this happens to people every day this an everyday story and nothing actually happened so why bother with this thread? Because we need to talk about it. We need to believe women who say they’re scared. We all need to look out for this stuff all the time and we need to call it out”

The thread created a flood of similar stories from woman of all ages about the fear of what could have happened.

“I had to walk to stand between a man and a woman and her young daughter because he was looking at them and licking his lips and sticking his tongue out in the most disgusting way you can imagine. I started talking to them and ignoring him” One woman described. “Because the train was almost empty but none of the men did a thing. After I calmed them down I turned to him and insulted him until the doors opened at the next stop and he left in a hurry.”

Katie Thunn joins the conversation. “Thank you for understanding.” she writes. ” I think, for me at least, one of the problems with situations like this is they’re so subtle that you feel you haven’t got enough to react on.  You know something is off but it’s harder to call it out, in contrast to more overt behaviour.”

Another Twitter user named Bess agrees. “I don’t know a single female who has not been inappropriately touched by a man . A touch that was never invited , sought, entreated or expected. Every one of my female friends has experienced this.  This is not men-bashing.  Just a simple truth.”

The post prompted the British Transport Police to Tweet the following. “Anything that’s made you feel uncomfortable is worth reporting. Each report helps us to build a picture of the offender. Text us on 61016 or call us on 0800 40 50 40. We will always take you seriously.”

Here, the Luas has a text service to report anti-social behaviour. Text LUAS to 51444 is the advice.  The service also says for safety-related incidents or tram emergencies, always call 999. Examples of this, it says, are that someone’s life is at risk, a crime is happening how, someone is injured or threatened, there is a fire or you need an ambulance. Iarnrod Eireann also has a anti-social behaviour text service. You can text the word TRAIN to 51441.

But the problem is that incidents like this are so frequent and subtle that reporting it seems pointless. Is intimidation a crime? And how are we supposed to know what might happen if we let something play out. How do you prove intimidation, for example? Plus, many from the disabled community have added their voice to the conversation.

“That the man stalking her on the near empty train, Prof Loveday like so many other women responding in this thread, was able to leave the carriage with him following, but jumped back on just as the doors closed. What about those of us who are limited in our movements? It isn’t as easy as dodging the threat.”

Dr Lovegood says ‘nothing happened’ but I disagree. Something did happen. Something threatening and frightening. Her action most likely prevented something more frightening or potentially dangerous happening. It wasn’t nothing, and the sooner we start calling these things out – perhaps the less accepting people will become about it continuing.