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How Catcalling Affects My Mental Health

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

This literally just happened to me less than an hour ago. And now I’m sitting here writing, processing and trying not to let my mind spiral out of control. I don’t want to have a panic attack. I don’t want to let this affect my entire mood. I just want to get through this experience and continue on with my day.

• What is PTSD?

I was just running out for a ream of paper. I was minding my own business, intentionally not looking at anyone around me as I always do when out in public. Heaven forbid I give someone the wrong idea and make them think I want anything more than to get my ream of paper and get back to work.

I pay for the paper and begin walking out to my truck to return to work. As I do, I notice a group of people also walking in the parking lot: two men and one woman. I don’t make eye contact, I just beeline it to my truck.

Then I hear it.

One of the men yells out across the parking lot, “Dammmmn mama, how are you?”

“Just keep walking,” I tell myself. “Don’t look up. There was no one else in the parking lot, but maaayyyybe he’s talking to someone else? Maybe he’ll think I can’t hear him and stop.”

I hear his voice again.

“Aww, what’s the matter, baby? Don’t be scared.”

I look up. Without a word, I smile politely and get in my truck as fast as I can. As I begin to close my truck door I hear him yell,  “Ok sexyyyy ladyyyy! I said how you doing?”

My door is now closed. I triple check that the doors are locked. I can still hear his voice, though. I look in my rearview mirror. He is now turned around laughing with his friends. I’m shaking as I drive away.

Was this a joke to you?

Now I’m sitting in my truck, collecting myself and desperately racking my brain for the self-care tools I learned in therapy to help me through this. But I can’t. What just happened is all I can think about. It’s consuming me and taking me back to an experience I had 14 years ago.

When I was 16 years old, a different guy said the same things to me before he raped me. And today, in this moment, in my mind, the man in the parking lot is no different from the man who raped me back then.

Cat-calling is not a joke. It’s not a compliment. It’s not innocent, fun or funny. Cat-calling is uncomfortable, triggering and disrespectful.

Society has taught me that if I am cat-called or treated disrespectfully, I must have done something to deserve it. Was it the way I looked at him? Or maybe it was the way I didn’t look at him? Was it the way I was dressed? Was it the way I walked? Society has taught me to question myself for other people’s actions. What did I do that made him think I wanted to be treated that way?

I’m shocked when I think about how normalized this way of thinking has become. I’m scared for our future. I’m sad for everyone who has or will experience things like this. And at the same time, I’m proud of everyone who has been brave enough to come forward and share their story. Your bravery makes me hopeful for our future.

We must continue to speak up for ourselves, for victims without a voice and for our children.

Follow this journey on Sarah’s site.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

Thinkstock photo via SolisImages

Originally published: November 5, 2017
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