This week’s post comes from an anonymous contributor. The experience she shares stems from life outside of fieldwork and contains possible triggers. We urge readers to proceed with caution as this experience deals with intimidation/stalking from an unknown man.
As an undergrad, I had the opportunity to participate in field reasearch internationally. My very first field season, I had a vague idea of what to expect: I roughly knew what I was doing, I knew I would be supervised during the fieldwork, and I believed I would be comfortable with the overall project. The work itself went surprisingly smoothly. The challenge came from living in a large home full of 8+ strangers, most of whom I had never met. On top of it, I’m an introvert and certainly not an outgoing one. I relished in my me-time, my lone-time where I could recharge from being in close contact with my fieldmates, but a home of 8+ people meant rooms had to be shared. On top of everything, it was my first time away from home. I was a broke college student that couldn’t afford an international cell phone plan and didn’t feel comfortable sharing my home-sick feelings with my housemates.
One night about a third-way through my field season, I was feeling particularly homesick. After dinner in the early evening, I decided to wander outside in desperate hope to find cellphone signal. I decided it was worth the long-distance, international charges to call home and just hear a familiar voice. But this was before the days of decent cell coverage, and I wandered about 500m from the fieldhouse chasing the spotty cell signal.
What you should know is that the house was nestled in a beautiful park along a lake. The park allowed camping in the designated campgrounds, but our fieldhouse was nearly 1km away on a one-way loop. While we normally had decent traffic around the house during the day, we rarely saw cars at night. And this night, after having a glimmer of hope that I might have cell signal, I noticed a truck round the corner of the loop, pull over, and turn off their lights.
I assumed there was a couple in the truck interested in some quiet time, and I had no interest in lingering. I turned around and decided to head back and hunker down into bed. But as I walked, my gut told me to look behind me. And as I did, I saw the silhouette of a man that was far too close for comfort. It was now well past dusk – there was no reason for this person to be here, let alone this close to me. I had been alone moments before and knew he had to have come from the truck.
I desperately tried calling 911 while speedwalking towards the house. I believed I wouldn’t be able to outrun him, but knew of a hidden trail to the house that only staff members knew – and I took it. Somehow, cellular signals aligned and I was able to report this in the moment to emergency responders while I hustled back to the house. And further yet, police found him as he was leaving the park, though I don’t know what had happened to him.
I’ve had so many mixed feelings in the years since. I’m grateful things weren’t any worse than they were, I’m furious with the actions of this man, I’m horrified with the realization that what could have happened does happen. And I wish I didn’t have to look over my shoulder repeatedly after the sun sets. And I wish that women didn’t have to carefully consider our surroundings when we’re alone. But without a significant cultural change, we may just have to play a bigger role in our own safety than we should have to.
Since then, I’ve come up with a few of my own personal rules that I want to share:
- Find a trusted fieldmate. We focus on life during fieldwork, but life outside of the work is important, too. Make friends that you can trust during your field season. Open up with them, especially if you’re feeling homesick. Feeling that you have a trusted group can make life outside of fieldwork more tolerable.
- Consider travelling in groups in remote locations. While it might seem like you never see people in a particular area (or timeframe), it’s probably safer to move in groups. Even if people are not a concern, if you’re in an area with wildlife, it can be a good practice regardless.
- If you travel alone, let people know when you leave and when you should be back. Tell someone. Leave a note. But let people know when you leave and when you should come back.
- And if someone is too close for comfort, act like you’re supposed to meet someone and that you spot them in the distance. Yell a name and wave enthusiastically (I pretend to see my Uncle Kevin) – this can give you an excuse to run and someone else may not be keen on the potential attention.
Interested in telling your whole tale? We would love to hear from you!