By Leia Silva
It’s dark inside my four-bedroom apartment in Orlando, Florida. The year is 2018, it’s my freshman year of college. The brown leather on the couch is peeling, dirty dishes soak in the sink, and a candle labeled “Autumn Leaves” flickers on the dining table. I am curled up in a large plush blanket, sitting close to my roommate, Aria. Our eyes are glued to the T.V. as a Netflix Documentary plays titled, Conversations with A Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes. The audio from the television fills the room.
“In the early morning hours, through a backdoor, the intruder came in…”
“It all began about 2:30 A.M.”
“Frightened coeds at Florida State University in Tallahassee walked to class in groups today…”
“He brutalized them. Two to their death and three to his certainty that he had killed them.”
“Everybody’s scared all the time. Even just walking to classes. And today we’ve been keeping our doors locked, during the day too, which we don’t usually do.”
An eerie chill begins to creep slowly down my spine. “Stop fidgeting,” says Aria. I didn’t even realize that my leg had begun to nervously bounce up and down the side of the sofa. “Sorry,” I say, “I just don’t understand how someone could do something like that. They were our age Aria… our age. They were twenty, twenty-one years old. That could have been us at FSU.”
I had been accepted at FSU; Aria had been too. We almost moved to Tallahassee. Instead, we decided to move to Orlando and pursue our degrees at UCF. “I know,” Aria replied. She let out a heavy sigh, and we both sat in silence for a moment. “It’s just more of a reminder for us that we need to lock our doors.” I sat up looking at her now. “Our bedroom doors too, Leia,” she emphasized. I nodded my head and turned off the T.V., and we both watched as the screen went black. “I didn’t even realize it was still playing,” she said. I could tell she was worried, and her mind was elsewhere because honestly, mine was too. “Let’s just go to bed,” I replied. The old couch creaked as we stood up, but our footsteps hardly made a noise as we walked to our rooms. I walked inside and listened carefully as the lock clicked on Aria’s door.
“It’s time to get you some pepper spray,” he says. I decided to move to Orlando a week ago, I have been searching for apartments for my first Fall semester. We enter Dick’s Sporting Goods, the linoleum tile floor squeaking under my shoes. I look at my dad, “What for?” I ask.
His face turns serious, his eyebrows furrow, and his voice is stern. “You are going to be living on your own soon. There is a lot of wackos out there and you never know what could happen at any time, on any night,” he responds.
“But I am not going to talk to any wackos Dad, are you kidding me?” I replied. I immediately began to reevaluate my judgment of good character radar. I wondered; would I truly be able to tell if someone had the underlying intentions to hurt me?
“Leia, it doesn’t matter if you talk to them or not. A man could have had an ex-girlfriend with big brown eyes and dark hair. He sees you and you remind him of her. And for whatever reason, his craziness that once had nothing to do with you now has gotten you involved.”
“Simply for being me?” I ask.
“Simply for being you,” he says.
Suddenly, I begin feeling an impulsive need to change my appearance. What if, I dyed my hair? As we turn the corner together, arriving closer to our designated aisle, I catch a glimpse of myself in the store mirror. I start considering, what do I look like to other people? But I immediately shake my head, dismantling that thought of altering my appearance, as I knew that was not the point my dad was trying to make.
“It could also have nothing to do with you, it could just be you are in the wrong place at the wrong time,” he says.
“Or, the wrong guy has found me,” I say.
“Exactly,” he says as he grabs a two-pack of highlighter pink pepper spray bottles. “Perfect we can give one to your sister too. Just attach this to your keychain so it’s with you all the time. We can practice using it at home in the backyard.”
I nod and begin to pick my cuticles, ripping my dead skin too far and I start to bleed. My dad looks over at me, catching on to the anxiety that has begun to swell inside my stomach.
“I’m not trying to scare you, but it is better to be safe and prepared, you know?”
“I know,” I reply as he hands the cashier his credit card. We leave the store, and I buckle into the passenger seat of my dad’s truck. I take a deep breath and look down at the bottle of pepper spray in my lap. I move it aside and continue to pick my cuticles all the way home.
I stare at the poster in front of me, confined in the tightness of this bathroom stall. “Let’s be clear,” it says in large bold letters. I have seen this poster many times before, in fact, most likely every time I have ever visited a bathroom on campus at UCF. I continue reading, pretending like I don’t know the next line. “Relationship abuse is unacceptable,” it says listing the contact phone numbers for reaching a victim advocate beneath it. I sigh and step out of the stall.
As I begin to wash my hands, a girl stands a few feet away from me, tapping her foot and staring at the tampon dispenser. I begin to reach for my lip-gloss to touch up my make-up when suddenly she turns to me. “Funny, isn’t it?” she says with one eyebrow raised. “What is?” I ask. She has curly brown hair, pale skin, and an annoyed look on her face. “That the condoms are free, but the tampons aren’t,” she says irritated.
I glance over to the wall, and there hangs a plastic container full to the brim with condoms. I turn back at her, the stainless-steel tampon machine glaring at me behind her. “I never thought about that before,” I said quietly. “Yeah, I don’t think a lot of us do. Anyways, you got a quarter?” I tried to think back to the last time I had a quarter on me and couldn’t. “No, I am sorry.” She sighs, “If only tampon dispensers took Apple Pay.” I laugh, “If only, but here,” I say reaching into my bag, “you’re lucky it’s my last one.” I hand her a tampon and she begins to smile. “Thank you,” she says. “No worries,” I reply as she enters one of the stalls. I exit the bathroom and wonder if the posters are in the men’s bathroom too.
The Thoughts of a Girl Walking Alone
“Never walk anywhere alone,” says my mom, “especially not a night.” I had just told her that I am taking a class that starts at 6:00 p.m. and ends at 8:50 p.m. every Wednesday. “I know Mom, I know,” I say into the phone, “I’ll be fine.”
I am walking to that class now, the crisp fall air nipping at my skin. I am no longer focused on getting to class, I am looking for something else, an Emergency Blue Light Phone (EBLP). A friend told me once that if I press the red button, it notifies the police instantly, you can even speak to a dispatcher through the speaker.
“So, who are you going to walk with, hmm?” she asks. I don’t hear her; I am still looking around. “Hello?” she says. Finally, I spot one. “Uh, I don’t know yet Mom, I will figure it out, okay? I gotta go,” I reply. “Okay, well be safe, I love you, bye!” She hangs up and I wonder if there was ever anyone who could not reach the Emergency Blue Light Phone in time. I try to push that thought out of my mind as another one enters, what if there was someone who had bad things happen to them and weren’t near an EBLP at all, or any phone, or anyone?
With my phone still in hand, I am hesitant to get some answers. I click on Safari, the tips of my fingers numb from the cold, and type in “UCF Crime Statistics”. I scroll through the site and find that between the years of 2017 to 2019, 105 incidents of rape were reported occurring either on-campus at UCF, or on-campus residential facilities. Also during that time frame, 51 cases of fondling, 135 cases of dating violence, and 152 cases of stalking were reported. Scary.
I lock my phone. I didn’t know that the numbers were that large, but it was even scarier to note that these are only cases that occurred on campus or on-campus residential facilities. Those statistics do not include cases that occur in off-campus student housing, clubs downtown, or the many other locations that surround UCF and make up the Orlando area. I try to stop my brain from thinking about this even more, but I can’t. I debate putting in my headphones and begin to resent myself for walking alone while one last thought enters my brain—these are only the cases that were reported.
“Hey, get over here!”
I am in standing in the driveway of my boyfriend’s home in Southwest Ranches, Florida. The year is 2021, it’s my senior year of college. My boyfriend’s older sister, Sarah, waves her arms crazily about trying to get the attention of her dogs. “Come on guys, stop it!” she shouts, as the dogs continue chasing each other around in circles. I laugh as I watch their ears flail about, and both of us can’t help but smile at their craziness.
Sarah attended UCF from 2013 to 2016 and graduated with her bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and today she is an Occupational Therapist. I had just told her that I was writing this article, and she revealed to me that, she too, was worried about her safety at times while being a college student.
“I knew where most of the EBLPs were on campus, especially when I lived on campus. Whenever I walked around at night, I always had a friend with me. I would never walk around alone. Also, I would always carry my phone in my hand, and I had pepper spray attached to my keychain too,” she stated with a concerned look in her eyes. She paused for a moment as she continued remembering her past. “I remember, my mom would always tell me to make sure I was aware of my surroundings and to park my car in well-lit areas,” she added.
I thought back to the advice I received from my Mom and Dad. I couldn’t help but wonder how many times similar conversations like that were held with other families, with other worried parents, with other daughters. I began to realize that Sarah had done the same things that I was doing today. I had been standing in her shoes the whole time and I didn’t even know it. I wondered how far back this fear of “What if?” or “Am I prepared enough?” went. Whose shoes was Sarah standing in, who was the female college student before her that was scared? Was this worry, this lingering thought that haunted the back of my mind, generational? Would this fear just continue being passed down—forever? “Come on,” she said, “let’s go inside.” I snapped back into reality and tried to laugh like before, as I watched as the dogs chase each other around one last time, but I couldn’t.
“I would always call someone or pretend to call someone if I ever felt I was in danger. I saw on social media somewhere that if people know you are in current contact with someone, they become less inclined to hurt you.”
- Abigail Weisse graduated from UCF with a degree in Biology and two minor degrees. She hopes to become a doctor one day and is currently applying to various medical schools.
“I carry around a self-defense security alarm on my keychain. I have never had a situation where I needed to pull it, but I imagine it would be very loud and effective.”
- Kira Defreitas-Gayle will graduate from UCF in Spring 2022. Her dream job is to be a full-time editor for fiction novels, but for now she is focusing on becoming a school-counselor.
“I stay alert, I always look around. If I ever see a man start to walk behind me, I walk faster and turn down my music so I can hear his movements better.”
- Kiarra Crouch will graduate from UCF in Fall 2023. She hopes to have her writing and poetry published one day. She also wants to start her own non-profit organization that supports Black youth in underdeveloped communities.
“At night I always walked in groups or asked a guy friend to walk me back to my dorm or car.”
- Kelly Driscoll graduated from UCF with a degree in Advertising and Public Relations. She currently works full time as an assistant account executive for a virtual public relations agency. She dreams of traveling the world and getting a dog soon.
“I don’t go to campus at night if I don’t have to. But if for some reason I do need to stop by, I always have someone go with me, I will never go alone.”
- Ani Ekanem will graduate from UCF in Summer 2022. She aspires to become financially self-sufficient through one of her many creative endeavors like modeling, creating digital art, or being a freelance make-up artist.
I have contemplated the perfect way to end this article over and over again. Even from the moment I had the idea for this article, I was unsure of pursuing it because how would I even begin to offer a solution for you, the readers. How do I begin to fix this problem, or is there anything I can even do about it?
Should young women, like myself, enroll in self-defense classes? Should we continue to walk in groups, or pairs? Should we buy more self-defense weapons like security alarms and pepper spray? Should we continue being fearful and alert during the night? The list goes on and on.
But what if, there is another way? A way in which we do not have to continue to advise young women to take such preventative measures or warn them about protecting themselves, but a way in which we begin to have a different conversation. A conversation that all of us, as a society, as people, need to have. We need to talk about the importance of standing up for someone if we see something wrong. We need to speak to our co-workers, our sons, our fathers, our uncles, our friends, and share our experiences and concerns. We need to question why our society perpetuates this behavior from young women, because why is it that only they are given warnings and advice for their safety? We need to stop encouraging young women to go to absurd lengths to protect themselves and we need to start teaching one another to simply be decent human beings.
Alone, I might not be able to this problem, I am just one person. But together, if we just begin to have a conversation, maybe another young woman won’t need to see what it’s like to be in my shoes.