I am so saddened to write this post. I wish it never happened to anyone. I’m sorry that anyone will have to go through it. Intimidation and harassment on the bike is not acceptable but often a reality of many journeys.
I have been the victim of some severe sexual harassment whilst on the bike. A man in his late 30s / early 40s, driving a large black 4WD, felt the need to stalk me, drive along side me for a decent distance and talk/yell/coerce the most disgusting things out the window continuously that made me feel incredibly vulnerable, degraded, violated and scared. I was riding to work and once I got there, I broke down crying with relief that nothing worse had happened, that it was over. It took me a day to bring myself to tell anyone at work about it but I was glad I did. Work was very supportive and offered counselling as well as other practical help including taxi vouchers, car pooling. At work’s suggestion, I also went to the police who took the matter seriously, taking down all the details and put on extra patrols on my regular route during my commute time.
I offer no advice on what you should do during the altercation because I know none of the advice any one gave me (mostly male, non-cyclists) was helpful. You do what you need to do to get through it. Adages of “You should just stop”, “You should go in to a shop”, “You should call for help”, “You should make a scene / draw attention to yourself” aren’t helpful when you are shocked / fear someone with their giant metal monster is going to run you over or worse.
I offer no preventative advice on how to avoid it happening to you because there isn’t any. Nothing you do, wear, act, change is going to stop it. The only person who can prevent it happening is the perpetrator.
What I can offer is what I did afterwards that helped me get over it and made me feel safe on the bike again.
- It isn’t your fault. You did nothing wrong. You couldn’t have done anything differently for a different outcome. You did what you had to do.
- You aren’t alone and there are plenty of people out there to help and support you.
- Try to remember as many details as you can. This is hard. I told myself at the time to remember specific details but after it was over, I couldn’t remember them. Details about the make/model of the car, general description of the perpetrator, logos, identifying features.
- Tell someone as soon as you complete your journey or as much of the journey as you can complete. If it is to work, tell your supervisor. In Australia, your employer is responsible for any incidents that occur on your way to and from work. WorkCover also covers these journeys. If it is a journey to the shops, tell the centre management. If it is to a class, tell your teacher. If it is to the gym, tell the staff. I felt better just telling some one about it. It shared the burden and prompted other people to act and help.
- Tell the police. I was pleasantly surprised with how the police handled the matter. The extra patrols, the phone number of the officer in case it happened again. They took the matter very seriously and handled it and me professionally. They took me to a private room when they saw I was upset and took down all the details I could remember. They were going to run cross checks and see if anyone else had made complaints. Their visible actions made me feel safer.
- Cheap video cameras. There is a variety of cheap and small helmet or handlebar mounted video cameras available. These won’t prevent an incident but one made me feel like if it happened again, I would be ready to record everything. Also good for general bad driver behaviour if you want to report people driving dangerously. Some places even have these available for rent.
- Changing your route / time of trip. I varied it up a bit to make me feel better. I know this has no impact on safety but it removed me from the bad memories for a while and allowed me to enjoy my rides immediately after the event.