Tina Starkey with her seven-month-old puppy Sugar on the E&N Trail in Esquimalt. Starkey now carries a small personal alarm device, her thumb on the button. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Tina Starkey with her seven-month-old puppy Sugar on the E&N Trail in Esquimalt. Starkey now carries a small personal alarm device, her thumb on the button. (Zoe Ducklow/News Staff)

Random encounters leave B.C. woman concerned for her safety, and she’s not alone

Sharing her growing fear of walking in public opens a floodgate of advice and similar concerns

She just wants to walk her puppy in peace but incidents over the last few months are making Tina Starkey feel anxious about leaving her home alone.

The first incident happened this winter when the Victoria resident took her three-month-old puppy Sugar for a walk, and a man crossed the street to pet the dog. When Starkey kept walking, the man followed.

“I ignored him but he kept trying to get my attention. ‘Hey lady!’ and ‘Hold on.’ I started taking small little streets, turning to see if he was following me, and sure enough he was. I finally got home and he left, but I was totally shaken,” Starkey, 50, said.

Then again in March, Starkey and Sugar were at an Esquimalt shopping plaza and a man in a car called out to her to come for a ride. No, she answered and kept walking. He drove slowly beside her calling to her as she walked, saying, ‘Come on, it’s a nice day.’

Starkey took a pedestrian route that he couldn’t follow and got home safely, but shaken and now, bewildered.

“I mean, I don’t really look like a hot mama here, I’m out here wearing shorts and my hair’s a mess. I’m just walking my dog in my purple crocs. What’s going on?”

Even if she was dolled up strutting around in heels or whatever, it’s not an invitation, she added.

When a third incident happened in April — a cyclist charged at her yelling ‘I don’t care!’ on the E&N Trail, and as he was about to hit her, turned abruptly saying, ‘But, I love you’ — Starkey was fed up.

She wrote a post on Facebook asking for self-defence advice with a brief summary of her experiences. Within hours she had over a hundred responses.

“I’ve had guys offering to walk with me if I don’t want to go alone, I’ve been sent videos on how to take down a 400-pound man, I’ve been invited to mixed martial arts classes, to join Brazilian jiu jitsu, I’ve been offered weapons,” Starkey said.

People recommend bear spray, pepper spray, knives, air horns, personal alarms — one even suggested making pterodactyl noises. (“No joke, I’ve scared men away by acting crazier or creepier than them.”)

But more powerful than the hundreds of comments — it was over 300 within 24 hours — are the loads of private messages from women who have had harrowing experiences they didn’t want to share publicly.

Starkey’s voice wavered when she brought it up.

“So many women are having things happen but they’re not speaking up. They’re too scared to come up and say ‘Look, I’ve been raped, I’ve been attacked,’ because they’re feeling ashamed or whatever. And that’s wrong, that shouldn’t be happening.”

She hasn’t reported any of her incidents to police, saying that since nothing ended up happening in each case police probably woudn’t be overly concerned.

That’s the opposite of what Victoria Police Department’s Const. Cam MacIntyre wants people to think.

“If you feel like you’re being followed, don’t minimize that. Some people don’t feel what’s happening to them deserves a 911 call, but oftentimes it does. We would consider that a crime in progress and we would send someone out right away,” he told Black Press Media.

And even if an incident, whether a full-blown assault or something less, is reported days later, it still helps police. If there are increased reports of harassment, potential stalking, or even strange behaviour, they might allocate more officers to those neighbourhoods. Reports might even correlate with known high-risk offenders who police are following.

“The number one thing is to know that we’re here to make sure you’re safe,” MacIntyre said.

Starkey is looking into taking a Brazilian jiu jitsu class once COVID-19 restrictions allow it, and in the meantime she carries a personal alarm device that screeches when pressed. Her right hand is on the device while her left hand holds Sugar’s leash.

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