Opinion: How a public masturbator made me realise how defenseless women are

Cropped shot of an unrecognizable young woman out for a jog in the woods
Photo credit: Getty.

Opinion: Last night, I went out with two of my friends for a drink and a catch up. 

I left them at the bar and walked back to my car in the dark with my keys clutched between my fingers. If anyone approached me I could defend myself like the powerful woman I am.

Nothing happened and I got home perfectly safely.

This morning, I walked to work down the path I always take – a winding pathway down to Cuba Street from Wellington’s quiet little suburb of Brooklyn.

My headphones were on, I was blissfully unaware of my surroundings, and I was utterly defenseless.

 Standing in the bushes, no more than five metres from me was a man, hunched over and furiously masturbating while staring directly at me.

I always thought if something like this happened to me, I would be angry.

 I would yell "Hey! What the hell are you doing?" and I would be ready to shame this pervert and protect myself and all other women who walk to their cars with their keys in their fists.

But I didn't. I froze for just a brief second as we made eye contact, and then I sprinted.

As I ran I was thinking about all the things I had learnt about protecting myself from sexual assault.

 Don't walk alone at night. Carry your keys in your fist like knuckle dusters. Fight back if you're attacked, scream for help, watch your drink, and don't trust strangers.

I was wearing a dress and I wished I was wearing jeans with a belt because I read that rapists are less likely to go after women who will be difficult to undress.

As my feet pounded the pavement all I could think was how pointless all that information is. I could do all those things, and it wouldn't matter because things like this still happen.

Men like that don't care what time of day it is. They don't need the cover of darkness to frighten and intimidate women.  Eight-fifteen on a Monday morning is as good a time as any.

I ran as fast and as far as I could, with tears welling up, and then I called the police on their non-emergency line. 

The kind lady on the other end sent two officers immediately. They didn't catch him.

It's shaken me, because it's made me realise that things like this don't always happen in the dead of night, and they don't just happen to other people. 

I don't want to stop walking to work. I don't want to live in fear because I shouldn't have to.

 But for the time being, I'll be walking a different route. And I'll keep my headphones off.

Vita Molyneux is a digital producer for Newshub.