267

Imagine this: you're a male in their late twenties. It is dark and you're taking the shortest route to your home/car/llama. After sometime you realize that you have been following someone. To make it worse, the someone is a young woman walking alone. And she looks nervous because you have been following her. Usually I take the easy option and just change sides but it's not always an option with narrow roads or if you are going somewhere where you can only get by going on the same road. And sometimes they end up on the same side of the road anyway. I have also tried just walking faster so I could pass them but I quickly learned that that was terrible choice.

How can I get where I am going without scaring people in front of me who might think that I'm following them?

  • 7
    Comments deleted. Comments are not for answers, but instead for things like clarification. – HDE 226868 Nov 10 '17 at 22:12

11 Answers 11

205

Sorry if this comes across as barking out orders; it's not. You have every right to walk the way you want around me. But you asked. :)

As a woman who has often walked alone late at night in less than savory locations (e.g. from an inner-city ER to my car in a distant-ish parking lot, or - worse - in the parking garage down the block), I think just slowing down and allowing distance between you is considerate.

If you can't slow down for some reason, pretend to talk on your cell phone, and talk/laugh loudly. Calling attention to yourself isn't something a predator would normally want to do. Or whistle a classy tune.*

Cross the street no matter how narrow it is.

Stand up straight. I know that sounds like something your mother would tell you, but slouching might look like you're trying to disappear into the night for a bit.

If you can't help being close (if you have to pass her), Just announce yourself. In the US, someone could just say, "Hey," or "Hey, behind you." You don't have to start a conversation.

If you're coming from up front, don't make more than glancing eye contact and a slight nod.

Personally (as a woman) I would not feel safe if someone tried to engage me in conversation. There is a safe time and place for such niceties; on a dark street alone with a woman isn't one of them.

I heard an interview in which a well known African-American man said he puts white people at ease by whistling Mozart. It makes them feel safer.

70

I see how this situation might seem strange to the person walking before you. But in the end, the streets are here for all of us, and there should be no reason for you to change your path or walking speed.
I totally agree with AndreiROMs comment:

Don't overthink this. Sometimes people simply walk in the same direction. It happens.

If you really feel uncomfortable walking behind someone, then there are several actions you could take:

  • Wait 30-60 seconds and let her walk out of sight. Meanwhile you can check your phone or tie your shoelaces. Don't look at her while waiting, this could come across the wrong way.
  • Slow down a bit for a while and let the distance between you and her grow and/or let her walk out of sight.
  • Take a different path to your llama.

Personally, I would just keep walking.

38

I would suggest not only slowing down your pace a bit, but I would do something to let it be seen that you are uninterested and that you are doing your own thing. Something like pulling your phone out and calling someone just so the other person can hear you making casual conversation. Maybe even fake a conversation over the phone if need be. This may seem silly but if said woman is within earshot, your conversation can help ground the reality that you are just a normal person who just happens to be walking the same direction.

  • 59
    If you're a bad actor wouldn't carrying on an obviously fake conversation actually be more disconcerting? – Todd Wilcox Nov 10 '17 at 17:24
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    @ToddWilcox I certainly wouldn’t attempt faking some elaborate conversation, but a simple “Hey sweetheart, almost home, just a couple blocks away” or something of that ilk would set a pretty innocent tone. – LLCoolJosh Nov 10 '17 at 17:32
21

So, I'm a male in my late teens. I'm tall but pretty skinny, not someone who looks threatening (so I'm told). But in the dark, when people can't see well (especially if I'm behind someone), my height does not help me, and I can seem imposing. I've been aware of this for a while, and I always take steps to mitigate it.

I want to make sure that they can see me. Someone who's trying to assault another person probably won't want to make themselves very visible. Given that it's dark out, there are probably some sources of light not far off:

  • Streetlamps or other lights. This may requiring waiting for a bit, unless the lights are close together along a pedestrian route. That said, in the cases where I've had to take action, I'll almost always stop and wait by a lamppost. I'd rather be 30 seconds late to wherever I'm going than scare someone.
  • The area outside a store or other public building. On back streets, there might not be building lights.
  • Near an intersection (preferably busy), though you may not have this option.

If you have a light source, like a phone, you can use your phone to light up your face a bit if you use it.1 The point is, make yourself visible to the other person - visible and non-threatening. You're not trying to hide; do what you can to communicate this.

All of this relies on the premise that they'll see you. If they're looking over their shoulder a lot, then you're okay. That said, I do have female friends who say they simply keep their heads down and walk faster, in which case they won't see you. At this point, I would say do what other answers suggest, and make some non-threatening noise.

But above all, make yourself visible.


1 You could also use a flashlight to light up your path - not an unreasonable thing to do at night - but be careful to not point it directly at the person. That could make it seem like you're trying to see them, or even blind them with the light. And that could be a sign of an attacker.


Addendum

Manuel said something in a comment that made me think a bit:

Just to add, I'm also a young male, and I do feel nervous whenever I encounter someone in the dark, and even more nervous when it's another male. Nervous as in someone is following me, not nervous for someone feeling as if I was following them, that's just awkwardness for me. So these answers while focused on women, will definitely help almost everyone. In this kind of question I always see men answering that give me the feeling as if they never feel nervous in these situations, and can't believe it.

He's got a point. Obviously, the question is about the case of a male walking behind a female. But there are cases where a male thinks they're being followed - and yes, I have been in that situation. In that case, I actually ducked into a well-lit doorway and rummaged through my bag while waiting for the other person to pass, because I was creeped out. I don't think the guy was aware.

If I'm behind another male and seemed to be following him - unintentionally - I would probably act the same way as I suggested at the beginning. I can't recall any cases where I've done so, but then again, I can't recall any cases where I've noticed that I was accidentally following a man.

12

I'm also a relatively tall and broad-shouldered male of a similar age and, so, have been in this situation frequently (and commonly in countries other than where I live.)

To me, the solution here depends quite a bit on the road in question:

  • For a road with wide sidewalks, as in many major cities, I prefer to just pass while keeping as much lateral distance as possible. Clearly, someone who passes you isn't trying to follow you. That said, I normally try to only employ this option if I can pass with a significant amount of lateral distance (what counts as 'significant' can vary depending on local culture and how crowded the streets are, though.)

    If passing would require getting too close for comfort, I move on to another option. Moving on to another option may especially be necessary if the person is walking in the middle of the sidewalk. (Seriously people, stop doing that.)

  • Failing the above, I move to the other side of the street to pass.

  • Failing that, I may choose to walk the other way around a block, especially if I need to eventually go over a block, anyway. In situations where they exist, switching to a parallel footpath (or one that otherwise also goes in roughly the desired direction of travel) to pass also works.

  • If it's been a while and none of the above have been options or appear likely to be options soon, if the traffic is very light and can be seen from far enough away, I may step out a bit into the road, pass there at a comfortable distance, and then get back onto the sidewalk once I'm well clear of the person I was walking behind. This option works best on streets that have parallel parking spots along the edge which are not presently occupied, as I can walk through the parking spots without actually getting into the traffic lane.

    And, it should go without saying, but, obviously, this option requires exercising common sense and not stepping out randomly into a busy street. I'm talking mainly about alleys and side streets here, not situations where there's traffic.

  • If none of the above are presently options, I slow down and keep some distance behind the other person and hope one of the above eventually becomes an option.


Regardless of which, if any, of the above options are being employed, obviously, don't stare at the person or otherwise make it look like you're paying attention to them. If stuck for a while behind them, aside from the slower pace, I'd normally recommend acting like you'd otherwise be doing if you weren't behind them. Don't do anything that makes it look like you're trying to hide or paying close attention to the person in front of you.

If you're a tourist, this is one of the few situations where it can be helpful to look obviously like a tourist. Stopping to take pictures of a notable landmark (obviously, one that is off to the side, not in the direction of the person in front of you) can serve both to make it obvious that you're a harmless tourist and also simultaneously give you a non-suspicious reason to stop and let the person get some distance ahead of you. If you happen to have a map, stopping to look at that can serve the same purpose for the same reasons. Of course, I'd not recommend this option if there's another potentially-creepy person following you...

Another option that can work regardless of whether you're a tourist or not is to stop and check something on your phone (e.g. check your e-mail, Google Maps, the weather, StackOverflow, etc.) Again, a non-suspicious excuse to stop and allow some distance to open while also signaling that you're not as likely to be a threat.

Finally, whether standing to wait or continuing to walk at a reasonable distance behind, calling someone and talking on the phone is another decent option to signal you're not a threat and not paying attention to the person in front of you.

7

I would add this as a comment, but I have not enough reputation for it so:

I would not recommend Xen2050's suggestion of waving and smiling. If someone would do this to me in the dark night I would be scared to death. Maybe it is something cultural (I'm in western Europe) but that makes me think the waving person might have a serious mental illness, which definitely not improves my feeling of safety. But I might think so even if it is not dark.

As I was a twelve-year-old, a man who walked towards me pulled a knife out of his pocket and held it in direction of my face. He grinned. He walked than almost every morning (it was dark) across my way to the train for about two or three months. The last time I saw him, he 'hugged' me and said 'Now I got you, now I got you.' - but after a minute he released me and I ran to the train. I was not able to go to school by myself afterwards so I finally told my parents and so they drove me to school for some time.... Nevermind. That is not the point. I just want to say, I have some experience in fear of strangers passing by or walking behind me.

I would strongly recommend, that no matter what, stay as far as you can from the other person. If they walk in your direction, just slow down a bit. If you got to pass by, keep biggest distance between you as possible, maybe step a bit out of the sidewalk, just as reirab said. And pass by as fast as you can to make the 'contact' short and painless (do you say that in English?). Avoid eye contact and do not turn your body in their direction, even try to signalize a 'defending' body language - that will be great. Despite of that, be as normal as you can. The phone-suggestions would work fine. But for me whistling or humming would be very creepy as this fills my imagination with a thug walking behind me with a baseball bat in his hands...

And do not mind as much. I am a special case as I had some negative experience. Most people might not even think about you walking your way.

  • How could I signalize a defending body language? Showing them my palm is probably not an option. – Nordlys Jeger Oct 27 '18 at 3:59
6

You could just wave at them... maybe even a friendly smile.

Given that they're in front of you, travelling the same direction, then they must be turning around often to look. So a brief wave & smile the next time they look seems reasonable. As if you're waving at your local mail carrier or a senior.

If they're so concerned that you're going to do something nefarious, then nothing you actually do will change their mind, anything could be a trick, and it's their responsibility to cross the street or go a different direction or walk in a circle or something if they feel they should. You're not responsible for their perceived fears, and you honestly have no idea what they're really thinking anyway.

So just act normally, walk in a straight path, and if they do walk in a circle definitely don't follow them! If they really do think you're a criminal, they might even be dangerous to you. If a friendly wave & smile seems to make them worse or act weird, then maybe they're the night weirdo and you could consider crossing the street after all...


PS. Try & walk with a friend at night. If leaving work, walk to one car then drive the other person to their car.

5

I encounter this situation fairly often and I am very conscious that I may cause anxiety if I approach (I know I am not a danger but the other person has no way to tell, and trying to do much to convey it could well make it worse).

I try to give as much room as I can sideways (generally by crossing the street), then get ahead (so I end up being followed), and then be careful not to dawdle so there's plenty of room to be followed in. If passing would make me come too close to them, I try to ease up a bit until the light is really good or someone else - or even a car - passes close by so that the apparent risk from me as I come close is smaller.

Throughout, I try to look calm but pre-occupied with something (at least, with a focus on where I am headed, though these days it's easy to pull out a phone and call home to say when I'll get there or text my daughter or something) but if the person looks toward me and seems nervous, I will try to say something very brief and hopefully innocuous that doesn't seem like I am trying to have a conversation (like "Hi, cold night") and then go back to trying to look as utterly uninterested in the other person as I can.

If there's likely to be no good opportunity to get ahead without approaching I resign myself to following but try leave plenty of room; I'll walk a bit more slowly than the other person or even take a different direction if it won't take me out of my way.

There's usually not a lot more you can do, unfortunately.

4

I just clear my throat audibly, and otherwise mind my own business.

This lets the other person know that I'm not trying to hide or sneak or otherwise avoid being noticed, but it doesn't suggest to them that I'm trying to get their attention or talk to them, either.

This does the courtesy of letting them know I'm behind them, while giving them the initiative to do whatever they want to do about it.

Sometimes they'll stop and wait for me to go by. Sometimes that's a matter of their own courtesy, since I do walk faster than a lot of people. Sometimes it's a matter of them wanting to be able to keep me where they can see me. Sometimes they don't react at all. Sometimes they walk faster than they were and outpace me, growing the distance.Everyone's different. I think that putting the ball in their court is the right way to let them do whatever they need to do to feel like they're not being creeped up on, rather than taking it upon myself to decide what they need from me.

Because, if I go out of my way to try to act like I'm not creeping up on them, that can very easily come off as creepy all by itself. So, throat-clearing is a signal that I'm present, but it isn't a demand for attention either.

Alternatively, an "excuse me" is more called-for if I'm following and passing quickly enough.

1

It happened to me before. I usually try to act normal. I would not change sides, it sounds a bit too much.

I am aware of the potential situation, so I usually keep a bit of a distance, but only if it does not inconvene me in any way - such as I'm not in a hurry and don't mind keeping a distance, which is normally the case in the middle of the night.

The key is being aware of the potential for frightening the other person. If she acts frightened and nervous, try to stay away.

In the modern, westernized world we live in, it makes no sense to change sides or to make significant efforts to keep our distance from a stranger just because they're a woman.

Presumably, women know that most men are not stalking creeps, rapists, killers, I hope.

0

Walking at exactly the same speed as the person in front of you can happen indeed.

As a solution, either:

  • Walk a bit faster, it is good for health and gets you to your destination faster.
  • Or take your phone and check your emails/messages, send a reply to someone, or read a news article. It will naturally make you walk at a somewhat slower pace.

Without being unnatural your speed is now different, so the problem will be solved within a minute.

protected by John Nov 11 '17 at 16:35

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