We’ve all seen that horror movie trope, or at least imagined it. You know, the one where a young girl is walking home alone at night, humming to herself, when she’s suddenly pulled into a dark alleyway never to be seen again.

It’s a scary concept. Growing up as a woman in the United States, I have more privilege with regards to safety than some, but I’ve still grown up hearing advice like, “Make sure you walk home with a buddy!” or, “Be home before dark!”

Now, I can use my imagination to determine what could happen to a young woman walking home at night. It can be as harmless as a guy coming up and asking for her number or as serious as sexual harassment, abuse, robbery, kidnapping or worse.

If you share my perspective as a young female adult, you might also relate to the attitude that stuff happens, but it could never happen to me. I know that’s how I felt not too long ago. However — especially as a woman — it’s important to take steps to stay safe.

Last week, I was walking home from work. It was probably 8:30 p.m. or so, and night had already fallen. I have a bike that I usually ride to and from class to save time on my commute, but the weather was gorgeous with a slight fall breeze. I thought it would be nice to slow down and walk home, taking some time to myself.

I was having a great night, though I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings because I was tired from a long day. I heard a noise and looked up to see a man leaning out the window of his car. He said something unintelligible in my direction, laughed obnoxiously and then sped away, car engine roaring loudly. 

Pausing momentarily, I rolled my eyes in annoyance and shook off the pang of fear that had just gripped me. I continued walking, my heart beating faster.

I was soon back inside my own head and unaware of my surroundings, so I was startled when a homeless man leaned into my path. He asked for spare change, and I stammered a noncommittal response. 

I strode over to my door and slipped inside quickly, heart racing by that point. I took some deep breaths, assuring myself that he wasn’t intending to hurt or scare me. If you haven’t had this experience, you might even wonder what I was afraid of or why it’s a big deal.

Ultimately, I don’t know that he wasn’t planning to hurt me or take advantage of me. He had been taller than me and more physically imposing, giving him the upper hand in the event that he had ulterior motives.

In the light of day, I’m sure I would have given him a smile and a gentle apology for not having money on me. At night though, even outside the door of my apartment building where a security guard was on duty, I was well aware of the potential danger

You never know what’s going to happen in the dark. There’s less accountability due to reduced visibility. What’s more, the amount of violent crimes committed by adults has been shown to reach a peak at 9 p.m.

I told myself that I shouldn’t be shaken up by this experience. After all, I’m strong and healthy, and I always carry pepper spray attached to my keychain. 

As I remembered this, I wondered if the pepper spray would have even helped me if I encountered a dangerous situation. While I rode the elevator up to my dorm, I checked how long it would have taken me to grab it. I fumbled with the carabiner clip I use to attach my keys to my backpack, and one of my keychain decorations got caught on the backpack’s strap, slowing me down further. My reaction time wasn’t very fast at all. Especially if I had been caught off guard, there’s no way the pepper spray would have been effective for self defense.

Thankfully, as I entered my apartment, I felt safer behind several locked doors, and I had my roommates there to comfort and reassure me. 

As the fear wore off, I began to feel rage bubbling up inside me. How dare the man in the car feel that he has the right to catcall me? How could the homeless man not have known that asking me for change at night would make me feel unsafe? Why didn’t they get it?

Not everyone has the experience that women in America have. A national survey found that “87% of American women between the ages of 18-64 had been harassed by a male stranger, and over one half of them experienced ‘extreme’ harassment, including being touched, grabbed, rubbed, brushed or followed by a strange man on the street or other public place.”

With statistics like these, it’s not a question of if — it’s a question of when.

The good news is that there is a lot you can do to deter and prevent these experiences. It can be as easy as making sure you always walk with a buddy or get home before dark.

If you have a late class and don’t have a friend available to walk you home, it’s not the end of the world. One of my favorite strategies to use is to call a parent, friend or family member on the walk. It gives you time to catch up as well as another ear to listen for anything out of the ordinary.

In addition, it can be very valuable to invest in personal safety devices like alarms, pepper spray, tasers, etc. These can be very handy in deterring or even defending against a potential assailant.

Another practice that’s becoming more and more common is sharing your phone location with family, friends and roommates. There are many apps that allow this function, like Life360, Find My or Google Maps.

Who knows what the odds are that something could have happened to me that night. It’s not something I plan to dwell on. I want to emphasize that the possible outcomes of walking home at night are unimaginable enough that it’s well worth it to take steps to protect yourself and be safe. 

Buy a taser or pepper spray. Get a ride home with a friend. Do what makes you comfortable. But whatever you do, have someone watching out for you.

Rylee Gregg is an English and Spanish double major. Reach her at ryleegregg@dailynebraskan.com