Several weeks before moving into college I downloaded the Youngstown State University app on my phone. The app is essentially like a Facebook for students and faculty members of YSU. At the time I thought nothing of it.
Skip ahead a few weeks and I'm all moved in to my dorm. I settle down and go on the app. Someone makes a post inquiring about students — just basic things like their year and major. Wanting to meet new people, I commented my name and stated that I was a freshman with an undeclared major. As expected, this app did help me meet someone new, but it did not go the way I expected. A short while later a message popped up in my inbox from a boy I had never seen before: "Hi."
Not wanting to be rude, I replied back. Little did I know my response would lead to an all evening messaging conversation that I couldn't escape from. Through his messages I learned that he was a few years older than me. He was an international student who said he had a hard time making friends. I was still pretty confused why he wanted to befriend me, of all people, though. I eventually decided I needed some rest, so I tried to end the conversation. He didn't seem happy about that, but he responded, "OK, you may sleep now, but you should also give me your phone number so it will be easier for me to message you."
Again, not wanting to be rude, I complied with his request. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I had assumed it was just because I had never really talked with guys before.
The next day he texted me shortly after I woke up. I ignored my gut feeling and responded back. The conversation seemed innocent enough at first, but he started to insist we meet up before classes started. He seemed upset when I told him it would have to wait until afterwards because I had orientation stuff for the next few days. Then he asked me to send him a picture of myself so he could recognize me.
Slightly uncomfortable with this request, I purposefully turned off my phone's connection so it wouldn't send, and pretended like I didn't know what was wrong. He didn't stop there though. He asked me if I had heard of Whatsapp. I said no, so he explained that it was a messaging service that could send good pictures. I told him I would look into it, to which he immediately responded, "Are you installing it?"
Fearful, I installed the app and installed a profile picture of myself. He now had a way to recognize me.
His messages became obsessive. He was texting me more often than my best friend back home did. I didn't want to reply, but I did. And if I didn't reply within two minutes, he would message me on a different app asking why I didn't reply. I felt like I had to ask permission to eat, sleep, go to a floor meeting or do anything that wasn't talking to him. I wanted out, but I felt trapped.
I told several of my friends back home about the situation and they all advised me to block his number. One of my friends pointed out that the situation was especially creepy since all he knew about me was that I was a freshman girl. Later that night, I followed their advice and blocked his number and deleted any app he could contact me on.
I thought I was free, but that wasn't necessarily true. He still went to the same school as me, and he knew what I looked like. I saw him several times on campus. He seemed to be everywhere I was. Sometimes it seemed to be purely coincidence, like at campus-wide events at the student center. On those occasions I would get scared and retreat back to my dorm. Other times it was more suspicious, like when I saw him hanging out outside of the place where I had a cappella practice. He was an engineering student, so he didn't really have any reason to be in the music room. I stayed close to my roommate as we walked home that night.
The first football game was fun until I noticed him there. Just his presence alone made me feel uneasy, but he kept moving. Every few minutes he slowly made his way closer and closer to the spot I was sitting at until he eventually went and introduced himself to one of the people who was in the group I came with. I almost had a panic attack and left the game early.
The next day I went to go apologize to one of the girls in my group for leaving early. When I explained the situation, her eyes widened. "No way," she exclaimed. The same guy had been obsessively messaging her and following her around too. She said they met while waiting in line for food and he convinced her to give him her number. He had also tried to pressure her to let him into her dorm room. Luckily she had the sense to lie and say that boys were not allowed in girl suites.
As bad as I felt for her, it was relieving for both of us to now have someone who knew exactly what we were going through. Her having similar thoughts and emotional reactions helped me to validate how I was feeling.
As much as I wanted to be nice, I should have realized the situation was creepy far earlier than I did. I shouldn't have ignored my gut feeling. His actions were obsessive, creepy and somewhat predatory. After all, he only messaged me after I made a comment saying I was a freshman girl. That was the only thing he knew about me. There is such a thing as clashing intercultural communication, but his actions were crossing the line.
I still see him around campus and I have to hurriedly head the other way, hoping he doesn't see me too. I don't know if I'll ever feel completely safe on my campus now that I've had this wake up call. I'm sharing my experience, not to point out all of my mistakes, but to hopefully reach out to anyone who may be going through a similar experience. I understand it's difficult to not be nice, but politeness can sometimes come with a cost.
Lead Image Credit: Wellington Sanipe via Unsplash
Editor's note: If you or anyone you know ever experiences stalking or harassment, please contact your campus or local authorities immediately.