CEDAR RAPIDS — If you’ve ever walked through a parking lot at night, your body rigid with fear, hyper-aware of your surroundings with keys are clutched in your hand — ready to be used as a weapon — then you’re probably like me.
I’m a young woman in Iowa and I’m afraid.
With all the recent events in the news, it’s hard not to be scared when in public alone. As a female, I’m constantly worried about being kidnapped or harassed, because that’s what girls are warned about from a young age. We’re taught to stick together, to be aware of our surroundings, to scream as loud as possible, to kick and scratch and to run as fast as we can.
We’re taught to be afraid.
After the tragic deaths of Mollie Tibbetts and Celia Barquin Arozamena this past summer, safety for women in Iowa has become a bigger concern.
As I grew up, my mom drilled into my head that I should always be aware of my surroundings, to never go somewhere alone and to stick with my friends when in a crowded place. I know many other girls heard these same rules over and over.
After the news of Tibbetts and Barquin Arozamena, I began memorizing ways to protect myself. Somehow my home state didn’t feel safe anymore.
I know girls who are scared to go for a run. Walking my dog is nerve-wracking. I only get gas during daylight hours, which is inconvenient in Iowa winters.
It’s terrifying to be a young woman at this time.
Recently I got pepper spray in order to protect myself should a situation ever arise. An action that seems so necessary and natural, it’s ridiculous.
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According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, one in five women will be raped in their life compared to one in 71 men.
Take a minute and think about that. Think of five women in your life — your mom, sister, aunt, cousin, friend.
The prevalence of assault against women in Iowa has turned every encounter into a potential powder keg of danger.
One morning, an older man approached my friend and I in the Target parking lot. He called us beautiful young women and proceeded to talk about how when he was a teenager he would’ve asked us out. We politely excused ourselves from the conversation, praying he wouldn’t get hostile about us leaving.
As we rushed into the store, images of news articles ran through our heads. We did not want to become the next headline.
When compliments can turn quickly into objectification, we need to examine why society allows this to happen. Situations that seem like harmless flirting to men can be extremely threatening to a young woman.
It’s not that we see men as the enemy, it’s just there’s no way to know what’s going on inside their head. Is he just being polite or is he intending to hurt me? I have no way of knowing. The fear seeps in, especially when you know about all the instances where the flirting wasn’t harmless.
We need to stop raising our daughters to be afraid and start raising our sons to be respectful.
The solution to this issue starts with you.
Men need to stand up for women when you see them being objectified. Don’t let your fellow man contribute to the mentality that says it’s OK to assault women.
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Women — it pains me to say this — you have to teach yourself to stay safe, make sure you are protected and remember you are strong.
Protecting myself shouldn’t be my biggest concern. It’s my senior year of high school. I should be worrying about getting into the college of my choice and what classes I’m going to attend. I shouldn’t be preparing to avoid parties and to walk to my dorm alone.
I shouldn’t be agonizing over how to avoid rape. No girl should have to worry about assault. But we do.
I hope this won’t be a fear my daughter or granddaughter has. I hope this won’t be a fear of mine in the future.
I want to stop looking over my shoulder.
I’m a young woman in Iowa and I don’t want to be afraid anymore.