Running · To whom it may concern

The fear of LWF (living while female)

I’ve been thinking about writing the following piece for a while, but my strict regime of running every day and near nightly commitments have been eating up a lot of my time.

Simply put, I am knackered.

But it’s not just my schedule that’s run me off of my feet.

It’s the absolute and all-exhausting condition of LWF – Living While Female – that has got me tired too.

Three weeks ago I was two-thirds of the way through a thirty kilometer run when I stopped to use the bathroom at the park at 29th Avenue Station.

In doing so, I literally walked right into a man who had been hiding behind the door.

My fear and surprise were weirdly trumped by my desperate need to use the facilities, and without even stopping to analyze the situation, I emphatically ordered him to, “GET OUT OF HERE.”

He mumbled an apology and something about the men’s washroom being disgusting, and clutching his backpack, he slowly slunk outside.

Once he was gone, I closed the door and right away checked to see if I could lock it from the inside. Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option, and I realized what a vulnerable position I was in, without the safety of a deadlock.

Looking around I could see that he has properly trashed the space, and I tiptoed my way into the first stall, being sure to lock it right away.

It was then that I could see that the man had not left the premises, and that he was standing right outside of the building.

As I squatted over the toilet, I watched between the slit of the stall door as he slowly began to open the door, just an inch or two.

Immediately I felt like I was going to throw up. I didn’t know if I should yell at him, or try to reason with him, or just phone the police.

“Sir. You have to close the door,” I told him, trying to keep my voice level, but firm.

And he closed the door.

But only for a second.

Right away, he opened it again, only this time a little wider, and a little quicker.

“SIR. PLEASE CLOSE THE DOOR.”

It was impossible this time to keep my voice level. I could feel my heart punching hard, straight through my chest and my head, fuzzy and hot. Tears began streaming down my cheeks.

“I AM GOING TO PHONE THE POLICE I AM PHONING THE POLICE,” I stammered.

By now he was already back inside of the bathroom and I could see that he too was panicky.

“No! Miss! Your problem is not with me. I promise! I am not here to hurt you,” he replied.

Standing, crying in the stall, I asked him, “Will you let me leave this bathroom?”

“Yes,” he said. “Of course. I need to hide in here. From the man in the park with the gun.”

“I need you to back away from the door, please. Go to the wall.”

And he did. But as he walked to the wall, I noticed that he was holding a pen in his hand.

“You have to drop the pen sir.”

At this ask, he got very jumpy and apologetic, and immediately dropped the pen and apologized.

“I am sorry miss. I am not a problem. There is a man. You should phone the police, but tell him about that man.”

At this point, I opened the stall and ran out of the bathroom, calling 911 as soon as I got far enough away from the building.

Just as the operator picked up, I noticed that there was a cop monitoring a speed trap down the block, so I apologized into the phone and instead approached the officer.

“There is a man in the woman’s washroom who has absolutely trashed the place and who just scared the hell out of me who is saying that there is a man with a gun in the park and I think he is paranoid and high and came in there when I asked him not to.” I didn’t even stop for breath as the words plummeted out of me.

“Oh. Yeah. Well, these kinds of places are never that clean to begin with…” is how he responded to my panic.

“Ummm, what?” was my incredulous reaction (only inside of my head).

Outside of my head, I said, “Well, I’ve used that space quite a bit over the last few months and it’s never looked like that. Plus, it’s a man in the WOMANS washroom,” I emphasized and reiterated.

“I grew up in this neighbourhood. This kind of thing happens all of the time,” he then told me.

I stood there, staring at this man, this man who will never, ever use a washroom and fear a woman coming in and raping, or beating him at 1pm on a sunny Spring afternoon, and started crying all over again.

“Well, can you please go over there and check it out?”

After inhaling for what seemed like a minute, he started to pack up his radar gear, and eventually rode his motorcycle over to the park.

I didn’t stay to check and see if he actually spoke to that man.

Instead, I tried to start running again, but everything felt leaden. Felt bad.

So I made it to Nanaimo station and skytrained home.

All the way home I fumed. Angry about my run being ruined. Angry about the cop not caring. Angry about that drugged up man who felt like he needed to be in that space. Angry about a society that doesn’t give a shit about substance abuse. Angry at myself for being in that situation.

But mostly angry that I cannot be a 31-year-old woman out running at noon on a Saturday without the fear of walking into a woman’s washroom and being terrorized.

I am just so over it.

I needed to use the bathroom.

And there will definitely be a next time when I will need to use a bathroom.

Only next time, if it comes down to it, I’m just going to shit my pants.

And then I’ll make that cop drive me home.

Because then maybe he’ll care about protecting me.

13 thoughts on “The fear of LWF (living while female)

  1. Your story just hurts my heart and I am so sorry that you – like so many women – have to deal with crap like this. Is it weird that I assumed for a moment that you were in the US, and then realized that you’re here in Vancouver. And that this happened here. But of course it did – Canada is not immune, Vancouver is not immune. I think I’m angriest about the cop who had no empathy for what you experienced. That sucks the most.

    1. Hi Bradley! Thank you so much for your lovely note. The fact that women are just as likely to encounter these kind of situations in Vancouver as anywhere else is a crap reality, but I hope the more we talk about it, the better it will get! It’s fellow human beings (and runners!) like you that make it a much safer world for us all. :)

  2. Oh my god, that’s terrifying. What a jerk that cop was! If I was that cop, (not that I’d EVER consider such a profession,) I would have given you a hug and then taken care of that creepy weirdo in the bathroom. We shouldn’t have to live in fear. This is part of the reason I’m trying to bulk up and learn to fight!

  3. I am so sorry that happened to you. I could not quit reading your post, literally on the edge of my seat, because I wanted to make sure you were ok, first and foremost. And by “ok”, I mean nothing physically had happened to you even though you were definitely affected mentally and emotionally.

    I’ve been fortunate to never experience anything like this, and trust me, I’ve been in plenty of situations where I easily could have.

    As you know, I’m not a runner. However, I do hope you carry your phone with you somehow. If there’s one thing our phones are good for these days is the necessity we have in emergency situations to dial 911 which we didn’t have even a few years ago.

    My jaw dropped upon reading the police officer’s initial and even second and third reactions before he left to go check out the situation. That makes me incredibly angry. He should definitely be re-educated on how he responds to citizens’ need for protection and safety. The only person you could turn to, one who is supposed to protect you and keep you safe from harm or even threat of harm, didn’t.

    I’m truly happy that you are physically ok.
    hrh

    1. Thank you, truly. I really appreciate your comment and your empathy. It was a crazy situation that I wish on no one, but one I know exists in perpetuity the world over. I hope that whatever impact I can make by writing will help others. :)

  4. Your writing is full of raw emotion that allows even this male reader who does not fear much, empathize with your encounter. Thanks, Vanessa, for such a well written, heart felt piece about a sadly, all too common scenario experienced by far too many women.

  5. It’s a very real fear. I work at a university that “promotes” a safe environment for female students. Last time I called campus police to deal with a man who was a) not a student and b) clearly staring at/stalking a pair of female students, I was told that sometimes “girls just think guys are staring at them.”

  6. Hi Vanessa, I also live nearby and go to 29th all the time. My sister and I were there last week and when she went to use the women’s bathroom, she bumped into the SAME man you described with the backpack and apologetic personality. The difference is we were both in too much shock to remember to notify anybody and just quickly high-tailed it out of there instead. Your story occured 3 weeks ago but it only happened to us about 5 days ago! This man is clearly coming back to inhabit the womens’ bathroom; whether he is paranoid or homeless, he needs appropriate help and WE need the women’s bathroom to be a secure place.
    What a terrifying experience.

    1. Hi Michelle, thank you so much for this note. I am so sorry that you and your sister had a similar experience, and I am incredibly concerned to hear that this man is still making this space unsafe. I am just flabbergasted at what seems to be an accepted sense of futility about the whole thing on the part of the police and likely the city, especially knowing now that this is a recurring problem.

  7. Hi Vanessa, I also live nearby and go to 29th all the time. My sister and I were there last week and when she went to use the women’s bathroom, she bumped into the SAME man you described with the backpack and apologetic personality. The difference is we were in too much shock to remember to notify anybody and just quickly left the park instead. Your story occurred 3 weeks ago but it only happened to us about 5 days ago! This man is clearly coming back to inhabit the women’s bathroom; whether he is paranoid or homeless, he needs appropriate help and WE need to feel secure in this space.

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