158

Sorry, I just never had these situations occur until I moved into a neighborhood.

Usually, we (well, my dogs) get most of our exercise in a large, unused field near my house. The people on our way and around the field know me, so it's rarely an issue. But it's wet and rainy today, so I was taking the dogs for a long walk. They were on short leashes, in broad rainy-daylight.

When I walk the dogs, I allow them to be dogs. They are allowed to stop and sniff and "read" the neighborhood dog-gossip. So our walks take quite a long time.

As I was walking, a car driven by a stranger (male) slowed down to my creeping pace and stayed there. At first, I just ignored him, but after a few minutes, I just looked straight at him. He didn't roll the window down, so I didn't try to talk. He just stared back. So we continued in this fashion, me letting my dogs walk at their pace, him creeping along just a bit behind me.

Finally, I gave in, walked to the driver's side and asked him to roll down his window.

Me: Why are you following me?
Him: I want to make sure you don't let your dogs take a dump on someone's lawn.
Me: They did already; it's in this bag (I hold up the smelly evidence.)
Him: You wouldn't be the first person to let their dog take a dump on someone's lawn.
Me: Well, it won't happen today, not with my dogs anyway.
Him: And I'm going to make sure it doesn't.

I walk away and he continues to follow me. There was no response to my looks or my request to please stop following me.

I didn't have my cell phone with me, so I can't call the police, or take a picture of his car's plate. I was kind of afraid to walk to my house; I didn't want this creepy guy to know where I lived (my dogs aren't vicious.) Finally, I just stopped walking and waited him out. He left.

Clearly, the exchange wasn't a friendly one. (I'm beginning to wonder about this neighborhood. Life on the farm was a bowl of cherries, neighbor-wise.)

Is there a way this exchange could have been handled better on my part? (Please keep in mind I'm reluctant to introduce myself to someone silently following me in their car.)

  • 115
    Wow, that's creepy. Have you talked with any of the neighbors about whether this happens to them too? – Monica Cellio Nov 5 '17 at 21:44
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    @MonicaCellio - Not yet; this just happened a bit ago. I will, though, for sure. – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 0:12
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    "handled the situation better" How are you defining 'better'. Are you looking to minimise your (already low) chance of being assaulted/murdered if the guy is crazy? Shame the guy into realising that stalking people is a worse offence than dogs pooing on the lawn? Convince the guy that you aren't going to leave dog poo on the lawn? – Scott Nov 6 '17 at 6:19
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    @Scott - Good questions all. I don't like that the interaction was hostile. This is a (potential) neighbor, and I don't want to make enemies, I want to make pleasant acquaintances, if not friends. – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 13:33

10 Answers 10

126

Judging from already available answers, this will be an unpopular suggestion, but here I go.

In my experience, the most sensible course of action is to not be confrontational at all, and 1. to query about their motives 2. to empathize with them 3. to query about their identity 4. to try establish a connection with them.

I understand this is not an easy advice, since it is always difficult to handle situations when one is being wrongly accused of something.

This could be a conversation template:

You: Hello, I seem to have noticed you are following me, do I know you?

Other: rants rants rants

You: Does xxx happen often? (show honest interest)

Other: grunts grunts grunts

You: Oh, I see, so are you living near here? (who is he/where does he live?)
I just moved here in this neighbourhood... (deflect anger, praise the place)
Nice to meet you!

Other: ...

You: Thank you for taking care of ensuring not(xxx) in our own neighbourhood, I completely understand how unpleasant it can be when xxx happens, once... (share your own experience)

Other: ...

You: It was nice to meet you, have a nice day~~ (smiley smiley)

As a follow-up, if they happen to follow you again, always acknowledge immediately their presence with a warm greeting and show interest in them, i.e. ask how they are doing and how is their "watch job" going lately.

Although the behaviour of the neighbour started out as being hostile, I think that the only winning approach is to completely reject any participation in the hostility and to win them over as friends. In the long term, this has best prospects to flourish in a positive situation and to avoid further hostile behaviours.

The important thing to understand is that you're both on the same side: you both want a friendly, clean and peaceful neighbourhood. You do this by ensuring your dogs don't litter other people's grass, and he does it by ensuring no one deliberately leaves dump on other people's grass. Even if his behaviour comes off as creepy and hostile, he's likely acting in response to a real, and reasonable, need. It is likely your neighbourhood has experienced problems of this kind in the past, and now they are wary of anyone who might cause harm to their small community. Your job as a good neighbour is to reassure them you are not there to break their peace. Note that having the creepy guy guarding the neighbourhood as your friend and making him trust you will help deflecting any possible criticism/bad-mouthing from anyone else: he will soon start guaranteeing for you with the others.

At the same time, caring for a clean and peaceful neighborhood also means that you don't want to be scared by people who follow you in their cars. Establishing a connection with someone is a two-way street. Therefore, you should not only try to empathize with their need, but also express your own need for safety and explain how their behavior triggers fear in you. Again, this can be done without being confrontational; by contrast, you may elicit more empathy by showing yourself vulnerable:

You: I am becoming really scared since you are following me in your car. Are you going to hurt me or anything?

Other: Me? Why should I hurt you? You are the bad person here, blablabla...

You: I don't know, it just freaks me out. You seem very hostile and I can't see what you are doing in your car. Can you please leave me alone? I'm scared.

Other (thinking to themselves): OK, she's serious. I'm angry about the dog poop, but I don't want to go too far. [Drives off]

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Nov 7 '17 at 21:06
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    "you're both on the same side" if his assertion is honest. He's being hostile and creepy. I wouldn't assume good faith on his part (though it may be politic to pretend he's being reasonable: that can sometimes work to deflect hostility). – TRiG Nov 9 '17 at 19:37
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    Thanks again for this answer. While I'm unsure of the "Are you going to hurt me" part (I would never say something like that), I really like the approach you offered. – anongoodnurse Nov 9 '17 at 21:30
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    @anongoodnurse me neither, it was added by another user as a complementary approach to mine own. I am also sorry that I was completely unable to address the fact that you could, in fact, be in a dangerous situation. I wrote my response thinking of a couple similar experiences of mine, but perhaps --as other people noted-- I was being naive. Always care of your own safety first. To conclude, thank you for your consideration. :) – Patrick Trentin Nov 9 '17 at 21:36
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    @PatrickTrentin - This is the answer I was looking for, and the most helpful to me (in terms of who I want to be.) No apologies needed at all; it's a great answer! – anongoodnurse Nov 9 '17 at 21:38
220
+200

How about frequent changes of direction? On foot, this can be done in a heartbeat; but repeatedly turning the car around is gonna get old real quick ;) . This is a non-confrontational way to discourage antisocial behaviour

  • 55
    This is elegant in its simplicity! – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 3:20
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    Similarly, I don't know if your area has footpaths without a road next to them, In between houses for example. You could also use those to try and lose him. – JAD Nov 6 '17 at 7:27
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    agreed - to cut through some well-populated non-roaded areas would work in a similar way – Black Nov 6 '17 at 13:06
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    @JarkoDubbeldam - There are no alleyways here. All houses, yards, roads, and a few fields. – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 15:21
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    @anongoodnurse That's too bad, it might help others in a similar situation though. – JAD Nov 6 '17 at 15:23
129

I think you handled the creeper appropriately, and yes "creeper" is an appropriate word to use in this case.

One thing I would suggest is to walk to the nearest friendly neighbor's house and ask for assistance, and/or ask them to call the police. You were right not to allow him to follow you home.

Something tells me that you might live in one of those "fun" deed restricted communities. I'm guessing this because this sort of ridiculousness is fairly rampant in some of those "communities". If this is the case I would also recommend attending the next homeowners association (HOA) meeting to tell the group how unsettling the encounter was and encourage your neighbors to be on the lookout for creepers. Also if it is an HOA situation, they're probably painfully aware of the guy that throws fits about dog poop, so someone will probably be able to identify him and tell him to stop.

Whether it's a deed restricted community, or not, your best option will be to carry your cell phone and take pictures and call the police anytime something like this happens in the future. It may not necessarily be a crime, but pretty much any street cop will tell a guy following a woman like this to cut it out and go home. Also, the cops may have dealt with this guy doing this before, so they may be less than nice about it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Catija Nov 6 '17 at 16:55
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    Having lived with multiple HOAs, apaul may have it right that they know of this guy and his antics, but it may also be this person is encouraged by the HOA to ensure people don't, shall we say, pollute the serenity of the neighborhood. Regardless, your best bet is to follow up with them about the matter and see if they have any recommendations. – corsiKa Nov 6 '17 at 22:18
57

Be careful!

This guy is engaged in fairly predatory behavior, and there is little reason to trust his neighborhood watch story. While his behavior as described might not be strictly illegal, it is threatening and it might escalate. He is not guaranteed to stay in his car, maintain any social norm, or to not use physical force. Strictly IPS solutions to this situation are dangerous.

Good situational awareness is key here. Do not approach his car to a proximity that quiet conversation is possible, this is too close. He will speak up to talk if only communication is desired. Be aware of other people in the area. Know where you would run to, such as a more public place or neighbors house. Please carry a cell phone.

Record the time and date of this interaction and future ones. Record any descriptive features about the person you can remember. Hair color, build, tattoos, car make and model, descriptive features about the vehicle, etc... Remember that no phone is necessary to record a license plate number.

If the poop patrol story is true, this guy is not in a hurry to make friends, and probably is not well regarded by many of your neighbors. A more profitable social strategy would be to talk to your neighbors about the off-putting interaction. Bonus points for discovering the guy's identity from them.

If nobody has had a similar interaction, make a police report about it, as this is a strange person engaging in threatening behavior around your new home.

  • 7
    My aunt was harassed by hunters/neighbors in a village. One day, they scared her on the road with their car, swerved in front of her near on the mountain. She went to the police and told her someone was scaring her with inappropriate behaviour. They didn't bother her again. She felt safer. – com.prehensible Nov 7 '17 at 9:21
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    Not only is there a possibility the creeper might hurt the person he’s targeting, he probably would have no compunctions about harming dogs. In fact, I'd wager he’s looking for an excuse to do so. – VGR Nov 7 '17 at 23:41
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    @VGR Great point. Then he would say that it was self defense or some other lie. Also might figure out where you live and what your backyard looks like... – user2103 Nov 8 '17 at 4:57
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    There is little reason to trust anyone. Sure the guy could go psycho at any moment. But so could anyone else. – emory Nov 8 '17 at 14:16
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    I remember a lesson my self defense teacher taught on day one: "The most important thing you learn from self defense is not how to get out of a grab, or how to properly gouge someone's eyes, or how to dislocate an elbow. The most important part is being able to recognize that gut feeling when you walk into a bar that says 'we need to be elsewhere, right now' and listening to it." – Cort Ammon Nov 8 '17 at 15:41
12

Was this a one-time event or does this keep happening? Is this person a resident of the neighborhood that you haven't met yet or someone from outside the neighborhood?

Technically his actions, although creepy, aren't illegal. It's a public street and he has the right to be there. I'm not saying it's right; I'm just commenting on the legality as I understand it. (IANAL)

Do you have a significant other? I'd suggest inviting him/her on the walks with you. People in packs are much less likely to be intimidated. If you get along with the neighbors, feel to include them on a walk if there's one you like spending time with.

Confidence can help here as well. You don't need to defend yourself or your dogs. If you feel that need to defend yourself, this person has a feeling of dominance over you. I'd suggest perhaps opening (next time) with a little bit stronger opening. "Are you enjoying watching my dogs?" "Can I help you?" "Are you lost?" "I want to make sure...." "Hey, if watching for a dog to take a dump makes you happy, that's your problem. Want a bag of it?" And keep doing what you're doing.

And bring your phone with. If you think your dogs will protect you, take a picture of the car and get the license plate. Nothing makes a creep feel exposed like the possibility of being identified. That has an element of risk, so only do that if you feel confident nothing will come of it. Behavior will only continue if it's productive - make it your point to be visible and very boring and eventually he'll get tired of playing "poop patrol" and will go on his way. As long as his behavior doesn't change yours, it won't be productive for him and will eventually end.

Sorry there's not a quick "just say [X]" but there's not a simple solution here that I can think of.

  • 13
    What he's doing might or might not be legal. Blocking the road for other traffic? Harassment? – user403 Nov 5 '17 at 23:46
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    I like some of your points, but "As long as his behavior doesn't change yours, it won't be productive for him and will eventually end." Almost everything you suggested would entail a great deal of change, e.g. corralling friends or neighbors to walk with me. But I will not venture out again without my phone! Thanks. :) – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 0:04
9

Be careful.

  1. Some neighborhoods have a watch that makes it perfectly legal to make sure you follow the neighborhood's rules (and these can be weird). Calling the police on someone who may be following the neighborhood rules might not go the direction you think - it very well may be within his rights to do even if it comes off as weird. Find out what you can do without breaking any HOA, neighborhood, and such rules.
  2. Ask neighbors. Is this characteristic of them? Does he do this to others? It may be something many people experience, but this will also help in answering point one - he might be within his rights to behave this way. You said

    I'm beginning to wonder about this neighborhood.

    Just because of this, or has there been other events? In general, it's a good idea to interact and get to know your neighbors. If this guy is an exception, they will have stories and help you. If he's not, you may realize this isn't the place to be.

  3. In a general situation like this, it's a good idea to emphasize agreement with the person's frustration, as getting defensive may imply that you're going to do the opposite of what he wants. So stating something like, "Oh my gosh, yeah I hate it when people's dogs poo on my front lawn and they don't pick it up!" Then tell a story about your frustration and show that you agree. If he's really disturbed by dog poo and he sees that you can feel his frustration, he may disappear without worry. If he doesn't, it's possible there are other things going on, or he doesn't believe you. In the first case, be careful; in the latter case, this comes from building trust with people.

  • 26
    Being a member of a neighborhood watch does not grant people special rights or privileges. They're only intended to watch and dial 911 if/when they see something suspicious or illegal. When neighborhood watch members feel that they can go beyond that, bad things happen. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trayvon_Martin – apaul Nov 5 '17 at 23:45
  • I like the idea of identifying with him. I would have needed to initiate the conversation earlier to do that (having already been creeped out), but that may be the right thing to do. Thanks! – anongoodnurse Nov 6 '17 at 0:06
6

You handled it well. This is unwanted attention, and the best thing to do is be boring. Actually, the best thing is to be safe.

He wants to follow you anonymously, so stop walking and look at him.

He wants to look at you and not talk, so start talking.

Of course, you don't want a conversation. Keep it boring. You asked him why he was following you, but now he gets to see if a) you believe his answer, and b) direct the conversation to something he wants to talk about. Rather, be declarative: "I don't like being followed". That's where the conversation ends, any rational that he comes up with for doing it is not applicable.

Be patient while waiting for him to loose interest, but never let him think that what you're doing is supposed to be interesting.

6

I think the common answer of taking a picture of his car/license is probably the best approach.

However, if you don't have a cell phone present, I would try going back and forth opposite his car i.e. when the car is following you, do a 180, when it reverses do a 180 again, repeat until he decides the transmission wear/damage is not worth the effort.

  • 2
    The OP already stated in the question that "taking a picture" wasn't a possibility since she didn't carry a cellphone/camera at the time. The rest of the answer (change direction) was already suggested here interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/6330/1599 a day earlier than this answer was written. – Tinkeringbell Nov 9 '17 at 8:50
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    The first sentence was a subtle suggestion that in the future carrying a cell phone would be advisable. The second paragraph was my actual intended answer, which I believe was different enough to post. I was suggesting an opposite reaction for every action by the driver. The answer you are referring to is similar but, to me, may not be as obviously antagonistic to the driver. – SyntheticAbyss Nov 9 '17 at 16:07
4

You could try to approach him that way:

You: Hi! Can I help you?

It's polite and friendly and gives him the opportunity to explain himself. It leaves more room for him to come up with a general answer than the direct question about why he is following you around.

If he doesn't respond in a nice and friendly way, e. g. a curt

Poop Police: No.

You could directly ask him why he follows you around. If he mentions his problem then (or if he already did in response to your first question, like "No. I'm just making sure your dogs..."), follow up with something else, that takes your special situation into account:

(If the problem has been mentioned, show him the poop bag) and then, not in an accusatory tone,

Tell him how it makes you feel being followed around by a stranger in a car.

(I would suggest to do this in a more abstract way, i. e. talking about a woman and a male stranger in a car and describing the situation like that to him, as if you both were just observers of the very situation you are in. This would at least make it easier for me to talk about it, brings your point across as well and is still not confrontational, since you don't directly blame him.

Regarding the dogs, don't mention them and if he brings up they offer you protection, note that it doesn't change the nature of the situation and that you want to avoid a confrontation. This still leaves open the possibility, that your dogs may protect you from a stranger.)

This way, you are not directly blaming him, but describing your situation. He would have to be pretty heartless to not understand your point of view. It provides him with a new perspective. And the fact that you had the smelly poop bag will make his actions look even more over-the-top. You make him understand, that, instead of doing something good for the neighborhood, he is kind of the bad guy - but not in an accusatory way. You just describe your feelings.

This is more in line with your wish, expressed in one of the comments

This is a (potential) neighbor, and I don't want to make enemies, I want to make pleasant acquaintances, if not friends.

Maybe he will understand, that he may be wrong, following around a lone woman in his car, on a rainy day. At least, I doubt that you could call this approach confrontational.

I myself have not been in such a creepy situation, but I do know that such people exist. I feel with you, it would have made me extremely uncomfortable. The approach I suggest has therefore not been tested, but I thought I'd mention it.

My first instinct would probably have been to find an escape route, as already suggested in other answers, or some other way making use of the fact, that the Poop Police is restricted to a car. Waiting it out as you did aslo sounds good.

Thanks to Deolator for his valuable suggestion to not expose your vulnerabilities too much. I changed my answer accordingly.

  • 5
    A good answer, but I would personally advise against emphasizing your vulnerability and the fact that your dogs won't protect you to a creepy stranger. Though predators are rare, they are often opportunistic. – Deolater Nov 6 '17 at 19:10
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    @Deolater Thank you very much for your valuable contribution! I edited my answer accordingly. – Anne Daunted Nov 7 '17 at 10:15
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    Anne, thank you for this answer. You always have good advice! – anongoodnurse Nov 7 '17 at 12:53
1

It's difficult when someone follows you in a vehicle and it's not better when they follow you on foot. If you're concerned about fighting with people you need to carry a whistle or horn, and a cellphone.

In your case I guess you need to head in a direction where there's more people and approach a different stranger. Despite being a unknown person the random person you approach for assistance is likely safer than the weirdo whom is following you; just be certain that they are not a former passenger of said vehicle and working cooperatively with the driver.

It's unfortunate that this happens, that it's something that people need to worry about, that there's something you must do, but it's a fact that it happens.

I wouldn't have approached the vehicle that way, but in your case perhaps the advice your going to prefer is to walk away from the person towards a safer area. I see no reason to be polite with the person or accept excuses about why you ought to accept such behavior (for any pretense).

Whatever the driver's purported reason, whatever they are doing, however old, young, nice or rude; driver (or person on foot, following you) just don't do it, don't behave in a manner that is likely to be perceived as threatening.

If you don't have a phone or are otherwise caught off guard you might want to head towards a "Block House", it's similar to 'Neighborhood Watch' but it's more of 'Personal Safety Assistance' (normally for children but they should accept adults, at the very least if they won't open their door they'll call the police).

You can locate these homes by a sign in the window, near the front door. If there are no such houses perhaps you might want to suggest it to the next HOA meeting.

Don't accept that people have reasons to stalk you and make you fear for your safety, and don't make them think you're going to be approachable, nor should you approach them and improve their opportunity to inflict harm.

You should report this suspicious behavior to the HOA and Police, it's not like you have the right to follow them and make them feel uneasy on the basis that there's been reports of some strange person following people around.

Don't accept their possibly truthful excuse, make others in your area aware of this intolerable activity. That person needs to be on their way ...


What does a Block Parent® do?

A Block Parent® may be called upon to offer their home as a place of safety when someone is in a dangerous or frightening situation such as:

  • bullied
  • lost, hurt or ill
  • caught in severe weather
  • frightened by a stranger

Block Parent

protected by NVZ Nov 7 '17 at 2:49

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