Patty Brem, a 44-year-old high school teacher from Monterey, California, didn't anticipate that a polite conversation with a random man she met at a restaurant would lead to one of the "scariest days" of her life, but unfortunately, that was exactly the reality.
Patty recently shared her story on Twitter, where it quickly went viral for being both incredibly scary and all too relatable. Patty told BuzzFeed that she met the man while visiting a restaurant a few hours away from home with her sister. "The whole interaction was maybe 60–90 seconds long."
A few weeks later, things quickly turned creepy and sinister when the man started repeatedly emailing Patty at work, despite her not giving him any of her contact info when they chatted at the restaurant.
A few months after that, Patty got news that the man was at her workplace looking for her.
"I was in shock and terrified that a stranger who I had never shared personal information with had shown up at my workplace. TWICE. I couldn't stop shaking," Patty told BuzzFeed.
Speaking to BuzzFeed about the "horrifying" experience, Patty said, "I blamed myself for being so naive in sharing the name of my school. For several days, I had coworkers walk me to my car and began parking close to the entrance of the building. I felt so stupid for being friendly at the restaurant months beforehand. I became vigilant about locking my doors and watching to see if his car was following me."
She continued, "Initially, I was creeped out when he contacted me, but thought that he would get the message if I just ignored him. In my experience, any kind of reply — even a negative one — can lead to a man trying to engage in further communication. By not engaging, I was trying to protect myself from being pulled into conversations that I wasn't interested in having via email."
After talking with law enforcement, Patty said she was instead encouraged to respond to one of the emails with a "'No, please do not contact me again' message, so there would be a paper trail if he were to contact me again." They also advised that if the man tried to contact Patty another time, she could apply for a restraining order. Luckily, he hasn't made any contact since the incident.
Patty told BuzzFeed that she decided to share her experience on Twitter for a number of reasons. "I knew that there would be many women who could possibly be naïve like myself and accidentally share personal information while in a friendly conversation. I also wanted men to know that it isn't okay to search out personal info on women if they haven't been given the information directly from that woman. I have a small community of friends on Twitter, and I needed them to hear my story as a warning. I actually shared the story with my high school students as well. I need my students to learn these same things."
Unfortunately, while absolutely awful, terrifying, and anger-inducing, Patty's situation isn't unique. Nearly every woman has a story about a man overstepping boundaries and making them feel uncomfortable, sometimes resulting in violence and even death. But beyond anecdotal evidence, the numbers don't lie. According to a 2019 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women were stalked more than twice as often as men. And according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 81% of women in the US reported experiencing some form of sexual harassment/assault in their lifetime.
"I do feel like this experience is more common than I had previously thought," Patty told BuzzFeed. "I've heard so many stories of people being searched and contacted without giving out their details. I think it happens to both men and women, but women's stories are probably shared more often because it feels scarier to be tracked down by a man than by a woman. Men often have the privilege of being able to protect themselves, whereas women often do not. It's scary to be a woman in this world."
"This experience has forever changed how I will act with strangers," Patty said. "I will never give out personal information, even if it seems innocent. I feel like I will always have my guard up from here on out, rather than willingly being friendly."
When asked what she thinks needs to change in order for women to feel safer, Patty responded, "I think women need to feel free to not be polite and friendly if they don't want to be. We are conditioned to be kind and gentle, otherwise we're called horrible names. We need to be fine with the name-calling in order to protect ourselves. We also need to be on guard with what we share too quickly. Boundaries are a good thing!"
I couldn't agree more! And to quote Patty earlier in the post: "Men, be better." Women NEVER owe you politeness, and even if we are polite, that's NEVER an invitation to harass us or make us feel unsafe. Women only will feel safer and free to be themselves when we're able to live without fear of violence or harassment, and that starts with you. Period.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE, which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.