THE BLOG
02/09/2015 12:16 BST | Updated 02/09/2016 06:59 BST

The Night I Was Mistaken for a Prostitute

Studying for final year exams was tough and at this particular time I was more distracted than normal. At 9pm I decide to get my much-needed caffeine fix.

As I exit, a Mercedes swerves towards the pavement. A man in his 40's rolls down the window.

"Get in the car"

He's drunk. He doesn't need directions. And I don't know him. I refuse and walk away. He follows. He asks if I'm working. I say "Yes, actually, I'm on my way to work" thinking this would get him to drive away. But it encouraged him more.

I soon realise by work, he means sex work. There's a girl who spends time on this particular road getting into strangers cars regularly. You can never really know if she was a prostitute but it seemed so.

He keeps telling me to get in his car. And gets angry. I backtrack my not-so-smart story, tell him I'm not working and to ask him to leave.

I make a mental note, his clothes, the interior of his car, the colours, the alcohol cans, his solid gold ring on his wedding finger, anything.

Pretending to text, I make notes, subtly turning around to catch a glimpse of the letters on the number plate, a couple at a time.

He opens the passenger door. I turn on to Caledonian Rd. He slams the door shouting and speeds off in the other direction.

A passer-by asks.

"Do you know him?"

I reply.

"No, I'm going report it"

He shrugs.

"Yeah, but he's driven away"

Soon enough, he was gone too.

I enter the shop wondering whether to report it. I'm annoyed that those who witness this brush it off because it's standard.

This is everyday life. It happens at any time, even when you simply head to the shop on your road. Any woman who's come across "Everyday Sexism" is likely to be able to recount many of her own experiences. I know I did.

Energy drink bought, I leave. He's back. Shouting. Again. Driving beside me. Again. I ring 101 and speak calmly, as if to a friend, hoping he doesn't clock. He probably can't hear through his own shouting and slurring.

"He's driving, following me, drunk, angry and erm... I think he thinks I'm a prostitute to be honest."

I know what exactly what I want. I want him to be accountable for his behaviour.

I return to my flat, climb on to the roof. It's dark out now and the view was beautiful. But before I become immersed I see blue flashing lights below.

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The police call. As we drive looking for him I give them my account. I'm reluctant to report incidents partly because I don't recall details. In retrospect, my thinking was wrong - even with no details, I should report incidents.

And I was lucky I did this time. The other police car found him and he was charged. I'm not entirely sure what for, I wish I knew - I'd push for him to be charged with harassment.

When telling this story, the most common questions are: What were you wearing? And, what time was it? I don't mind questions but what I observe from these are suggestions that these factors could determine some rational for the experience. This isn't right.

The truth is, even if I were a prostitute, it doesn't warrant harassing behaviour in any way. And nothing I wear or don't wear warrants that behaviour.

Recent conversations on street harassment led to suggestions of women-only carriages. Whilst I respect the sentiment, it's not an answer.

A society where women feel safe to go on whatever carriage they choose is what we need. And where choice of clothing or time of day is no factor. Zero-tolerance policies, procedures for perpetrators and support for victims are all enabling factors.

The reason I chose to tell this particular story, is because I reported. Reporting is important in getting those responsible for protecting the state to take action. Reporting is tough and authorities need to provide support and confidence.

London authorities have teamed up this and launched the "Report It To Stop It" campaign encouraging people to report unwanted sexual behaviour on public transport. Last week I saw a Community Officer handing out information cards to commuters. They read:

"Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable on their journey. No incident is too minor - we take every report seriously."

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It was reassuring to see. So please get involved with the campaign in anyway you can - through collaborations, or even little things like getting information for those around you - I went back and asked for a couple of cards for my flatmates. And please keep speaking out and making sure this is kept high on the political agenda!