If you’ve ever walked through a parking lot at night and your entire body is rigid with fear, you’re hyper-aware of your surroundings, and your keys are clutched in your hand – ready to be used as a weapon – then you’re probably like me.
I’m a young woman in Iowa and I’m afraid.
With all the recent events in the news, it’s hard not to be scared in public alone. As a female, I’m constantly worried about being kidnapped or harassed, because that’s what girls are warned about from a young age. We’re taught to stick together, to be aware of our surroundings, to scream as loud as possible, to kick and scratch, and to run as fast as we can.
We’re taught to be afraid.
After the tragic deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquin Arozamena this past summer, safety for women in Iowa has become a bigger concern.
As I grew up, my mom drilled into my head that I should always be aware of my surroundings, to never go somewhere alone, and to stick with my friends when in a crowded place. Because you never know what could happen. I know many other girls had these same rules told to them over and over.
After the news of Tibbetts and Arozamena, I began memorizing ways to protect myself. Somehow my home state didn’t feel safe anymore
I’m a young woman in Iowa and I’m afraid.
It’s exhausting that women can’t go alone in public spaces without having the fear of being assaulted.
Mollie Tibbetts was just going for a jog down a gravel road in small town Iowa. She was missing for the long month of July. The search was agonizing. There were rumors of sex-trafficking. Iowa women were terrified. All because one man decided to stalk, follow, and murder an innocent young woman.
Celia Barquin Arozamena was golfing alone on an early morning when a homeless man saw her and decided to assault her. As a champion golfer, she practiced at that course many times before. A place usually deemed safe turned into a dangerous nightmare.
Barquin Arozamena’s attacker, according to The New York Times, had the “urge to rape and kill a woman.” That man wanted to find a woman solely with the intent to assault her. It’s sickening. And not as uncommon as we want to believe.
I know girls that are scared to go for a run. Walking my dog is nerve-wracking. I only get gas during daylight hours – which is inconvenient in Iowa winters. It’s terrifying to be a young woman at this time.
During the long month before Tibbetts was found, my mom had me read an extensive article on how to avoid rape and fight back. It included marking the faces of everyone I saw, wearing layers that are hard to get through, or carrying an umbrella or pepper spray to fight someone off.
Recently I got pepper spray in order to protect myself should a situation ever arise. An action that seems so necessary and natural, it’s ridiculous. It’s so ordinary to see young women carrying pepper spray or panic alarms on their keychains because assault has become less of an atrocity and more of an inevitability.
According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, one in five women will be raped in their life compared to one in seventy-one men.
Take a minute and think about that. Think of five women in your life: your mom, sister, aunt, cousin, friend. Which one of them would you let be raped? Odds are one of them will be. The only difference is that it isn’t up to you – or them.
The prevalence of assault against women in Iowa has turned every encounter into a potential powder keg of danger.
One morning an older man approached my friend and me in the Target parking lot. He called us beautiful, young women and proceeded to talk about how when he was a teenager he would’ve asked us out. We politely excused ourselves from the conversation, praying that he wouldn’t get hostile about us leaving.
As we rushed into the store, images of news articles ran through our heads – we did not want to become the next headline.
When compliments can turn quickly into objectification, we need to examine why society allows this to happen. Situations that seem like harmless flirting to men can be extremely threatening to a young woman.
It’s not that we see men as the enemy, it’s just that there’s no way to know what’s going on inside their head. Is he just being polite or is he intending to hurt me? I have no way of knowing. The fear seeps in, especially when you know about all the instances where the flirting wasn’t harmless.
A co-worker of mine, Taylor Gardner, was in a similar situation. For about three weeks a man came into the grocery store every day to see and talk to her. It escalated and soon he was coming in twice a day and telling her that he would see her after the store closed.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable and nervous, like he’s gonna stalk me at my house or something,” Gardner said.
Fortunately, the managers took action to ensure that Gardner would be safe in the workplace, but it doesn’t fully erase the fear that plagues her.
Objectification of women has been commonplace in the world for so long, that little comments go unnoticed and actual assault is unfortunate, but not unusual.
We need to stop raising our daughters to be afraid and start raising our sons to be respectful. We need to erase the “boys will be boys” mentality and stop teaching girls that the first thing they need to do is scream.
The solution to this issue starts with you. Men – stand up for women when you see them being objectified, don’t let your fellow man contribute to the mentality that says it’s okay to assault women.
Women – it pains me to say this, but for now, you have to teach yourself to stay safe, make sure you are protected, and remember that you are strong.
Protecting myself shouldn’t be my biggest concern. It’s my senior year of high school – I should be worrying about getting into the college of my choice and what classes I’m going to attend. I shouldn’t be preparing to avoid parties and to walk to my dorm alone. I shouldn’t be agonizing over how to avoid rape. No girl should have to worry about assault. But we do.
I hope that this won’t be a fear that my daughter or granddaughter has. I hope that this won’t be a fear of mine in the future. I want to stop looking over my shoulder.
I’m a young woman in Iowa and I don’t want to be afraid anymore.