I was 13. It was a spring day with a clear sunny sky. The smell of fresh flowers in the air seemed to make everyone drunk. That day was unusually warm. I was wearing a cute light blue dress with covered shoulders and white sandals.
I was walking with my mom on the sidewalk. She was a few feet ahead of me. I was enjoying the singing birds. Suddenly, I heard a sharp whistling very close to me. At that age I didn't know that if a girl reacted and turned around, it could be a sign of easy accessibility. My friends told me that years later.
A fancy black car was driving behind me on the opposite side of the street. It switched over to the wrong way of the road just to get closer to me. My childish curiosity quickly took control and I looked in the direction of the whistling noise. Just one step from me I saw a big black car with an open front driver's window and a man smiling at me. Then he slowed down his car to the speed of my walking. I didn't have a lot of time to think about what was going on. The only thing I remember clearly at that moment was the immediate thought: "He looks like my dad. Or even older." It took him less than a second to start "talking." "You are such a beautiful girl," he said with a voice full of fake kindness. He threw out a few more sentences that made me red and hot like I had been scalded. I felt revulsion.
I was speechless. My immediate reaction was showing him the middle finger on my right hand. I had never made that gesture before but seen others do it. It just happened - instinct. Even more than his first action, I was shocked by his response to my gesture. With a very calm and soft voice he scolded me. He said I was a stupid little girl and I was getting a compliment. With a judgmental tone of voice he added, "You should be thankful for that." Then he drove away and left me alone with my emotions.
I felt myself as embarrassed as a little puppy who was peeing in someone's shoe and then was pointed by my nose to the puddle of my shame. I was so confused and angry at myself. I blamed my reaction. I put my hands in my dress pockets and quickly caught up with my mom who was now far away from me. Of course, I didn't mention any of it to her.
Time passed. My anger grew. It overwhelmed me until I realized the source of my anger. It was his fault that I felt guilty. I hated that stranger in the fancy black car. And why shouldn't I? What did he want and what did he expect? What was his goal for 5 minutes? My action was impulsive. His conduct was an organized strategy. Disgusting! Why? Because I was a child who deserved to be treated as a child, not as a sexual target. Why did he choose a juvenile girl? Why did he choose me? Because it's easy to attack someone who is vulnerable and naive?
Who are these men who behave like predators? Do they have a target age group? All girls develop differently in physical and emotional ways. At 13 it's hard to comprehend that you are a sexual object for some males. You are not a child to them. It doesn't matter how you see yourself. Someone else already put you in this category.
When I think back, I realize that my unconscious reaction was an instinct to fight back and not allow myself to be victimized. For the first time I claimed my power. That event represents for me the line between my childhood and the reality of the adult life.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Take Back the Night in conjunction with Sexual Assault Awareness Month. To learn more about Take Back the Night and how you can help prevent sexual violence, visit here. Read all posts in the series here.