Making This World Mine

December 18, 2017
Hand-drawn photo of mace on a pink background with the words "Reclaim our World."
Art by Kirsten Hemrich

Many women who attend the University of Virginia are aware of the two attempted abductions that occurred on October 27th at 2 am and October 29th at 8:05 pm. UVA students and faculty received two emails detailing the abductions on the date they occurred. However, I will briefly recount the emails here in case some are not aware of the incidents. At approximately 2 am on Wertland Street a female was walking alone when a white male approached her from behind, covered her mouth with his hand and took her to the ground. The male threatened her but bolted when other people started walking towards them.

Two days later a second attempted abduction was made at 8 pm on West Water Street. A female was walking alone when a male approached her from behind and put his hand over her mouth. The man fled the scene when the victim began to yell. The male was reported to be wearing a black hoodie with red sleeves but the victim could not specify his race. (In November, Charlottesville City Police announced they had arrested a suspect in this case.)

The first attempted abduction freaked people out a little. My friends alerted each other: “Did you get the email? There was an attempted abduction last night.” Women started weaving their stories about how they or their friends had JUST been walking on Wertland before or after it happened. “It could have been me,” they said. “It could have been me,” we all thought.

The second attempted abduction caused panic, real panic. My friends refreshed their emails and read the description of the offense out loud. My roommates and I crowded in our living room, talking about self-defense moves that we know, bought mace online and started a walking group for all the people who lived on Grady. "8 pm?" we questioned, "if it was 8 pm and I was walking home from Alderman, of course, I would think I was safe to walk home alone." We lamented all the times we had walked that block and a half home alone at 2 am on Friday. We yelled about how unfair it was, how controlled we were that we had to wait to leave a party on the whim that one of our guy friends would be walking home. How unjust it was that we couldn't be out after dark because some guy was trolling the streets trying to take us away from our lives and make us his.

No matter how much we screamed about the unfairness of it all and talked about kicks to the groin that could save us, a looming threat was held over us. We didn’t feel safe in the world and it was because of a man.

I have had many guy friends offer to walk me home since the emails about the attempted abductions came out. The offer is wholeheartedly appreciated, and thank you for making me feel comfortable enough to reach out to you.

However, a man walking me home is not a permanent solution. I do not want to go through my life symbolically and physically, desperately needing a man by side to feel safe in a world that I still have to traverse every day. The extra effort I have to make to text a guy friend or ask them to pick me up is taxing. I want to be able to go where I want when I want, without consultation and without hesitation. The man attempting abductions makes a world that I have worked so hard to succeed in not my own. He pushes me to the edges, to private spaces, and towards other men.

While we felt angry and terrified in the wake of these abduction attempts, my friends and I did feel better thanks to our shared connection and support. Together we rallied in the living room; as soon as people got the email they ran in screaming, “Did you see this? Did you see this--it happened again?,” with the adamant attention to detail that only a targeted group has. Our conversations have created a literal safe space in our homes. We may feel that if we step outside our doors the world is no longer our own, but on our couches in our living room, on our computers, we can express everything we want to, and work towards making the world a space where we finally fully belong. Our actions, such as the walking group and buying mace, were created by us and for us, giving us agency and control.

Little by little this world will become mine, and it won’t be because I asked someone to walk me somewhere. It will be because my friends and I reclaimed the world for ourselves.

 

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