I understand why women don’t run.

by Janelle Hanchett

In college, I drove a white 1986 BMW 325, a gift from my stepmother when I was 17. I loved that car. It was hers for ten years, then mine, and it was small and fast and just fancy enough to make me feel like I was somebody, or would be someday.

Perhaps that little car is why I drove alone so often, to no place in particular: toward the beach after high school, or San Francisco, or the river in the summertime. Sometimes I made it somewhere. Sometimes I drove around in circles.

My college town, Davis, frustrated me because there was no beach within thirty miles, no particularly lovely river to visit. It was hot and miserable in the summer and smelled vaguely of cow shit.

But nowhere else could I find the feeling I had driving my little car and listening to my favorite tunes, alone with my thoughts, so I drove wherever or nowhere for that feeling.

One evening when I was nineteen, I bought a pack of Camel Lights and headed west on interstate 80, toward San Francisco.

I wasn’t going to San Francisco. I wasn’t going anywhere. I was listening to old live Grateful Dead tapes and feeling lost and a bit sorry for myself while the rest of the world held hands. I had broken up with my boyfriend, again. When I met him at seventeen, I was sure he was “the one.”

But he kept on being not the one, and my roommates and their boyfriends were irritating me.

Somewhere near Vallejo, just before a big hill that always made me feel like I was going too fast, like I would lose control of my car somewhere near the bottom, I saw a rest stop on my right, up at the top of the hill, and for some reason, I took the exit and parked my car. Perhaps I thought there might be a view. The sun was setting. I must have wanted to watch the sunset.

I sat on the hood of my car and looked out over the land beneath the hill – the spotted lights of a shitty valley town. I watched the sun go down, though it was nothing like the orange pink over Bodega Bay.

I smoked a cigarette, and smoked again. And maybe again, when I noticed a van parked two spots away from me with a man in the driver’s seat. He got out, walked over to me, and casually began a conversation.

What I remember about him is that he was a white dude, at least forty years old, short, small in stature, thin, with short dark hair and dark eyes. He wore jeans and a black sweater. He appeared unassuming and friendly. I do not remember what he said to me, or why I engaged with him, or how or when or with what segue he shifted the discussion to my appearance. My face.

At that age, I had straight blonde hair that fell down past my waist. I was thin and strong from riding my bike every day to my class, and swimming laps when I could. I felt attractive. I felt wanted. I liked that. Maybe that’s why I kept breaking up with the one who was supposed to be the one. Maybe I wanted to see who else would like me.

I don’t remember what the man said or how long he said it, and I don’t recall the tone in his voice or the look in his eye, so I do not and will not ever understand how he managed to work the word “modeling” into our chat, or why, more importantly, I believed him or cared.

And even more significantly, I do not recall and I will never understand why I found him to be legitimate, or forgot we were at a rest stop on the side of the freeway. I did not ask myself what he was doing there. I did not ask myself what I was doing there.

And I will not ever understand how I, an intelligent, strong young woman who fancied herself critical, with an impenetrable wall of self-defense, having grown up with a father and mother and brother who warned me about the evils of predatory men, how I, how I, grew confused.

I will never understand how he, a stranger, wrapped all of me, all I was and had ever been, into a tiny ball grasped in the palm of his sweaty little hand – a hand I could have broken. A face I could have smashed, or simply walked away from.

“You can do it,” he said. “You can model for me and I’d like to hire you.”

Did I tilt my head in doubt? Did I chuckle? Did I curl my lip in amused skepticism? He handed me a card with a phone number. Did I think that made him real?

“But what I need is to see your body.”

There. There.

There is the moment I should have left. There is the moment I should have looked for other cars to make sure I was not alone. There is the moment I should have known.

But I did not.

“Will you show me now?” He asked.

As if I were floating, I got in the driver’s seat of my fancy little car and he in the passenger’s seat and we drove to a darker place of the rest stop and I lifted my shirt, the flesh of my size 34B breasts exposed, my nipples still hidden.

“Now take your bra off,” he said.

His voice now was thick and heavy, fast and impenetrable. I was his now, it seemed. I was in some world I knew before, though it had been many years. Or perhaps it was a world I had never left, only convincing myself I wasn’t a little girl anymore, and I could fight now, and I would know when I had to fight, and I wouldn’t fall silent and complacent and participatory in my own abuse.

He was demanding, not cajoling. There was no doubt in his voice. I was his. I felt it, a snake whispering from the passenger seat, nudging me to look around.

I looked at him, and when I did, I noticed movement in his lap, a shadow in the corner of my eye, and when I focused on it, I saw, like a knife shredding the veil of my trance, his hand in his pocket, stroking his erect dick through his pants.

There. There.

I knew.

I pulled my shirt down and scanned the parking lot, aware now of the danger I was in. A car drove by the other side of the parking lot, and I loved the driver. His existence gave me power.

“Get out.” I said.

I don’t remember my tone. I don’t remember if I tried to sound big or loud or convincing.

“Get out.”

He did, without a word.

I drove away. East, this time, back home.

My heart pounded the beat of those just startled awake. When you’re in a deep sleep and a bookshelf falls or a window slams. Crash.

My skin crawled. I wanted a shower. I wanted to understand what had just happened. I wanted to erase his face, his hand creeping across his groin.

But more than all of that, I wanted to erase me. I wanted no soul to ever know. I wanted no soul to know I was that weak, pathetic, illogical – and, dare we say it? – stupid.

My daddy didn’t raise a fool. My mother showed me better. And I, I was more than this.

But I wasn’t.

So I threw the card of that man out the window and never told a soul about this moment until right now.

Because everyone right now is talking about the girls who don’t walk away. We wonder why they don’t leave. We wonder why they don’t scream fuck you and run, because some do, you know? Some of them waltz out with the fire of a thousand suns. They make sense. They are strong.

But what I want to say is that some of us were messed with as little girls. Some of us already know what it means to shut down and fold up to get through. Some of us have never tried the alternative, because we didn’t know we could, or didn’t find the power.

Maybe it’s that. Or maybe it’s that girls are taught from the moment the world starts patting our heads and putting us in skirts that we are “pretty” or we better be “pretty” and we are “pretty” for the boys, who want to have us, and we are taught that when they want us, we owe them, because we were pretty and they couldn’t help themselves, you know – it’s just the way they are.

So by the time we are in their apartment, having allowed them to buy us dinner – by the time we kissed them once – or spoke to them too long at a party or bar or rest stop, well, we led them on, didn’t we?

And now we are theirs.

We are pretty. And they want to have us, and if we don’t deliver, we are out of line, breaking the pact, fucking with the natural order of things. Blue balls, et cetera. You know. Perhaps we are used to enduring, to not liking it, to giving in. Perhaps we’ve done it countless times.

Or maybe it was just that the stars aligned in a way that night that removed my brain and voice and power. Maybe I was fucking sad and that’s it. Maybe he hypnotized me. Maybe he saw me from afar and sniffed my weakness, or maybe, I was just plain stupid.

I will never understand what happened that night. I will never understand where I went, and how he won, but I understand why girls don’t always run.

Isn’t it strange, though, that I spent twenty years wondering why I didn’t run, and no time at all wondering why a piece of shit man stroked his dick in my car, after spending an hour convincing me of his virtue?

Isn’t it strange that in my weakness, I did wrong, but in his abuse, he owes no explanation?

That, I understand, though, because I am a woman. I believe women. I believe women who don’t run. And though I wish every one of us that power, to fight and kick and fuck these bastards up, I know why we don’t, I know why we hide, and I’m telling this story to come into the light.

I didn’t ask to be harmed. He sought to harm. I failed to defend, and yet everyone – including me – is concerned with me.

And that is why we cannot run, sometimes.




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  • Catherine Uretsky


    • Satah

      This really spoke to me,I feel a penny has dropped regarding my own experiences, thank you for sharing this. Xxx

  • Judy

    At 14, I was coerced into letting someone touch me. If I didn’t, he would have told everyone of my deepest, darkest secret. I am just now, 44 years later, realizing that no secret is worth that much.

  • Sherry

    I didn’t run either Janelle. It’s okay that we didn’t run. And fuck the predators.


  • Sandi

    I think you said it one sentence that may be lost in all the rest….that the ones who have been messed with give off an aura of vulnerability that the predator can sense a mile away.

    Me, too.


  • Maureen Wanket


  • Luca

    I didn´t run either Janelle. Not when I was 12, not when I was 16, not when I was 19. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Daphne

    I, too, understand. I thought I was in control until he had his hands around my neck, saying, “tell me you like it”, “tell me you want me”.

    I was the take no prisoners, kick ass woman, raised to be strong and independent, who suddenly shut down and froze, just thinking, “please god, let me survive this, so I can get home to my kids”.

    I, too, understand.

  • Agata

    My god, how you’ve nailed it.

  • Beth

    I didn’t run. And thank you for writing this.

  • Caris

    thankyou for sharing this Janelle. I’m sorry that happened to you, and i’m so glad that other car drove into the parking lot and you were able to tell him to get out. and that he got out. I know why you didn’t run, and why i didn’t run. I was alone as a 12 yr old with a man who was stronger and older and I felt endangered and overpowered and i wanted to stay alive. to get out of it alive, at least. to not make it worse. You did nothing wrong. You were vulnerable and a predator took advantage of that. That’s what predators do.

  • Dana

    Just thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  • shawna

    This. Why we run, why we don’t run. We know why, and each situation is not like the other. One, think you see a way out. The other, you see a different way out, maybe. I see you, Janelle.

    Thank you.

    I believe women. And I think believing women is the key to dismantling the privilege and the entitlement that so many men seem to think they have that somehow allows them to abdicate responsibility and veil the fact that they ***are*** doing harm. Immeasurable harm. Undying harm.

    I read a very interesting article today that’s a bit tangential to #metoo, but still resonated with me, because it’s the whole patriarchal BS of entitlement (and I’m not talkin’ social safety net here), and who gets to be believed, and who gets to not be believed. And how we all get dragged down by it.

    I’d like to paraphrase the article, but it would make no sense in a response to yours. So here’s a link:


  • Corby

    I didn’t even realize running was an option. But I knew afterward – ashamed, naive, embarrassed. Thank you for writing and sharing your story – makes me feel validated – gives me a tribe.

  • Erin

    So powerful. Thank you.

  • Vivienne

    Story of our lives. At 46, well after I should have known better, I allowed a contractor of mine to show me a picture of his penis and him having sex. Well, I didn’t consent to it, but when he handed me his phone and said, “Look at this” I didn’t smash it into the ground and fire him instantly. I giggled, deflected, and paid him for his work and then I loathed myself for not raising holy hell.

    This was last month. Well after Me, Too. Well after all the consciousness raising in the media. Our female brainwashing runs so deep. Men need to stop being fucking predators and women, I, need to deprogram ourselves.

  • Trista

    Me too. I didn’t run either. Multiple times.

    Those who caught us in our vulnerability never saw it coming that there would be a time we’d use our voice. Thank you for writing this. It gives me courage to write, too.

    Bob Lefsetz is publishing posts about sexual harassment (often in the music business), and if you are on his email list, he sends you what people wrote him in response to the posts. The #MeToo is pouring in. It is sad, horrifying, and eerily freeing to know we are not alone. http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/

    Thank you both for providing safe forums to share with each other, and for finding words many of us can not.

  • Ashlene

    Thank you

  • CJ

    As one that didn’t run, thank you.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you. I was raised in a home with a mom, a dad, and two younger brothers. I learned early on my brothers were valued more than I was. What they did was more important and I should pick up their slack. Years later, I discovered one of my brothers would spy on me by cutting a hole in my bedroom window shade. He would wait for me to go into my bedroom and then he would go outside to watch me through the hole. I felt violated. I also never told my parents because I felt they would never believe me.

    I know the rest stop location you talk about as I don’t live too far from there.

  • Shelby

    He didn’t win. You told him to get out of the car, and he did. You had the power and you used it.

    Recently, while at work, the landlord of the neighboring building was accusing one of our trucks of causing damage to his property. Too bad the heights didn’t match up and no one saw it happen. He was angry and frustrated about his property. He was loud. I was the senior manager on site that day, so I guided him outside “to look” at the damage (read- get him out of the office so customers would not hear him yell). He was angry and I stayed calm, but also tried to “charm” him out of his bad mood. Realizing that his threats were not going to work on me, he switched tactics and apologized and became friendly. And then he threw his arm around me and said that we should head to the bar and have a beer and “have sex for 4 hours”….ummm what? I think I said “Excuse me?” Sure I had heard him wrong. “Oh, yeah. Only 3 hours”. And I chuckled along with him, even as he attempted to maneuver me towards the bar down the road. I was in utter shock. I’ve fended off creepsters before. I’ve stood up to bigger men than him. But it was sooo in your face. It came out of nowhere. And I was confused as to why I did not really even react. Except to laugh along, like it was just a random joke. I was so rattled and shaking when I went inside- less bothered by what he said and did than by my reaction. But reliving that moment, over and over, I realized- I didn’t do anything wrong. I did tell the others in the office, to make sure that he was never allowed enter again. They were surprised by my lack of reaction to him. But I made sure to remind myself- he changed things up to put me off guard. He was out of line and inappropriate, not me. I shouldn’t have to live my life prepared to have random men put their hands on me and proposition me on a whim. I was living in the rules, he was not.

    Just as you were and he was not.

  • Ilene

    I didn’t run either. I was groomed. I was 15. He was 50. He was my soccer coach. How do you explain to someone who has never experienced statutory rape that while it’s happening, you straddle two universes – one where the wrongs are clearly so wrong, and the other where you don’t understand why, but you WANT to feel this “love” and admiration? I too, had a good home – loving and attentive parents. It’s frightening, really. I have a daughter now, and we speak constantly of consent and what’s right/wrong. Dear sweet baby jesus, let me arm her so that she does not fall victim like I did.

  • Anna

    I’ve started to comment so many times since your post hit my feed yesterday, trying to put the times I didn’t run into words, and I cannot. So thank you, Janelle and other commenters, for putting into words what I cannot yet. I am almost 50 years old, I’ve buried it all for so long, and all the poison is starting to seep out. I have an eight-year-old daughter – how the hell do I protect her from this?

    • Norita

      Anna, talk about this NOW with your daughter. Share this post with her too (in 8yo kid-speak). Keep talking. You are OK now.

    • Katie

      You can give her words, a vocabulary, so that she has a way to describe how she feels, to understand what she sees. I hope you will feel safe enough someday to share your story with someone you trust.

  • Kristol

    I’ll share this with you because I feel safe here. No one knows, not even my husband and it will probably stay that way forever. I didn’t run either. I froze. I was 14 and stupid. I was on a crowded train and felt so alone, so scared. I didn’t know what I was supposed to say. I could feel the grown man in front of me getting hard, rubbing his dick against my thigh as we both held on to the same pole. It was so crowded. I could see him look me in the eyes, eyes that were welling up with tears, and smirk. He knew I wouldn’t scream. I had never been molested, had a great childhood, and a daddy that would have killed him on sight if he knew. But I was terrified. No one would believe this black kid over this white man in a suit. I knew it then, and I knew that he knew….. Thank you for this Janelle. You don’t know how much it meant to me to feel safe enough to let that out. 33 year old me, and 14 year old me thank you immensely from the bottom of our heart.

    • Gretchen

      Hugs to you – to you now and to your sweet, scared 14 year old self.

      • Kristol

        Thank you Gretchen.

  • Karen

    That feeling sucks so hard. I am almost 48 and it happened to me AGAIN last summer in England while getting a massage while my bf was in the net room over. I wasn’t even sure at first what was happening, which sounds so fucking stupid. But I bet most women know that feeling, when you doubt your own judgement. Because we all know everyone else will doubt our judgement.

    I was fucking molested during a massage and it was our vacation and i did not want to ruin it for my bf, for whom it was a 20 year homecoming. I did not tell him until almost a week later when I saw two old creepy men hitting on two young foreign exchange students who clearly wanted to escape the men.

    I stopped the massage before it went to a place i was screaming in my head to avoid, and the guy fucking knew it as I had gone rigid when he suddenly massaged my boobs and i freaked the hell out. I went rigid and was screaming in my head, and didn’t know what to say, and he asked me if I wanted a happy ending. I almost screamed “no” and he backed off and I got up and went to the ladies room and went out and said nothing. I called the place a week later and told them, to their horror, what he had done. We all know this was not the first time, or he would not have been so bold.

    It fucking sucks. Who knows why we get stuck in this shit. Probably because we aren’t walking around thinking like predators all day.

    Some 17 year old boy tried to lead my bf’s 10 year old daughter to the woods when her mom let her wander off at some hippy music festival last year. All my constant talk of “don’t trust anyone, always trust your own instincts to scream” paid off, as that is what she did. I am so glad she did, but now i feel we have to train like soldiers in a war to avoid future predators.

    That is what it feels like. We are training to be in a war.

    • Norita

      Karen, thank you for calling that massage place back, even if it was a week later!! I’m so, so sorry that happened during what is supposed to be a healing & trusting environment.

      Seriously, we are warriors in training UNTIL this predatory behavior is non existent. Gotta long way to go… thank you for that mantra “always trust your own instincts to scream”. way to go, with your bf’s daughter!

  • Gretchen

    At 12 years old, a guy in my small Ohio town exposed himself to me as I walked home from middle school. I ran home and told my mother, who called the police. One of my sisters and my brother jumped in her car and went looking for the creep in his orange van with grey primer spots. They found him quickly, near the elementary school….ready to jack off in front of someone even younger than me. They got the license plate number and came home and gave it to the officer at my house. He called it in over the radio and after a few minutes, we heard the name “Michael Page”. My sister recognized that name as a guy who lived across the street from a friend of hers. Police gathered details, I had to write out the entire incident (horrified that I had to write the word “Penis” and couldn’t just say “thing”) and the police promised to follow up. The next week, an officer came with about 10 mug shots and asked me to identify the guy – which I did, in about 3 minutes. I can still see his face, and it was 40 years ago. The officer said that with that ID, we could press charges, he was a known problem and no stranger to the police in our town. He explained that I’d have to testify in a court room, in front of people, and probably would have to SAY (not just write) the word “penis”. He clearly wanted me to do this and get this dirt bag off the street. I was fired up and wanted to do it, especially after learning that this wasn’t the first time. I felt strong and powerful knowing that I could take this guy down…this little 12 year old girl wasn’t going to be his victim any longer.

    You want to know why it never went to court? Why my parents declined to file the charges and allow me to testify against this piece of shit human being who showed his dick to a 12 year old girl walking home from 7th grade? It was because my Dad knew Michael Page’s father. He was a guy my dad occasionally had a beer with at the local lodge. Filing the charges would embarrass Mr. Page and his family, so my parents declined.

    It took me a long time to forgive my Dad. It took a long time to understand that he just couldn’t realize the message he was sending to me when he valued Mr. Page’s social standing at the Elk’s Club over my need to be empowered. It wasn’t until my 30s that I took that power back and quit allowing men to treat me with less dignity and respect than I deserved.

    And Michael Page? He went to jail, finally, when I was in high school for tormenting and stalking one of my best friends. Her parents didn’t give a hot damn about his parents feelings.

    • Kristol

      I’m sorry you went through this. And shame on your parent’s for placing that bastard’s family’s reputation over showing you the utmost support. ((Hugs))

    • Norita

      Holy crap, Gretchen, sorry about your experience AND the experience with your father’s / parent’s poor choice of priority. So glad you have come to terms with your own empowerment & GOOD FOR YOU for telling your mom right away, reporting it to the police, and willing to stand up to this creep to testify in court! That is courageous as hell, especially as a 12yo.!

  • Julie

    Thank you for sharing this story janelle

  • Denise

    I was in 5th grade in the public library on a weekday after school doing a report about the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature. I can’t tell you why the stranger in my area made me feel small, but I remember telling myself to click my pen hard so that maybe he would think that “I was the one who was the predator.” As I came around the corner, his penis was exposed to me and I felt my face flush. I went right to the librarian, who was young and on the phone and ignored me, irritated at the interruption.

    I went outside to use the payphone to call my mother at work to come pick me up, and I was suddenly terrified of my vulnerability in the dusk alone outdoors. Her unaware boss tried to make small talk and I couldn’t interact.

    My mom came right away and she called the police too. And I had to give a statement, but they told me not to feel hopeful that they’d find him.
    She told my teacher so I wouldn’t have to go back to the library to complete the report.

    Fuck that guy. I love the library and I went back and kept on using it and reading. I am a regular patron to this day.

    Good for you for telling that guy to get out. A lot of us are raised not to do exactly that. Thank you for sharing.

  • Norita

    THANK YOU for this, SPOT ON post. Predatory assholes! So glad that other car was there & was enough of a signal for you to know HIS BEHAVIOR was off.

    I am printing this & archiving for my young daughter to read (she is under 10yo) in the near future. I will share this NOW in younger-age terminology & continue to remind her of the lesson, there ARE predatory assholes out there, to be aware. This will be an ongoing repeated discussion, SO THERE WILL BE NO SECRETS if, god forbid, anything like this ever happens. Thank you for bringing up your story as a reminder to start this discussion in our family.

    Thank you for bringing your experience to light, for WRITING about this secret you’ve held for too many years, DECADES. It is the secrecy of experiences like this, the cultural shaming of the vulnerables, rather than shaming the Predatory assholes, that allows the behaviour to continue.

    The secrecy is the power these assholes hold over others & perpetuates their actions via fear over the vulnerabilities of women. No more.
    Fucking scream it :

  • Caroline Kavin

    At 26 I got a job in northern Alberta as an environmental consultant. My dream job. I got to drive big trucks and atvs and snowmobiles into the vast northern wilderness and look at pristine waterways and wildlife, doing water assessments for the oil and gas sector. But I also had to go into the camps and monitor the water while they worked. Often I was the only woman. It was terrifying but I was young and strong and I wouldn’t let them see that I was scared. The man who hired me was kind and watched out for me and warned me about some of the men and said if they bothered me he would get rid of them. And still I found myself alone with these men, after the threats and the comments and the harassment. I was alone and pretending not to be afraid, just doing my job. Then I dropped an instrument in the water and as I was laying prone to reach it one of them jumped on me and held me down, making a show to sniff my ass and telling the other here was his chance no one would know. I told him to get the fuck off me but he didn’t until his friend shrugged and shook his head. I took off and I STILL TOLD NO ONE. WHY? I was ashamed that I had let it happen, and besides, nothing really happened, right? Did I want these men to lose their jobs? I still regret this every single day. The fear pushed me out of my dream job and I moved south. Fuck those assholes. It’s not our fault. All we can do is teach our daughters to expect better, no to DEMAND better. And our sons to BE better.

    • RC

      I so relate to your comment that nothing really happened! It’s like you justify it and wonder….was that wrong? am I blowing things out of proportion?

  • Erin

    You’re writing keeps getting better and better. Thank you for sharing it, and for sharing yourself with people you don’t even know. It makes a difference.

    I didn’t run either. And I went back several times. I was 19 years old and I didn’t tell anyone about it until this year because I thought of myself as brave and smart and savvy and strong. But I wasn’t. I’m still ashamed, I think. And I’m trying not to despise men for not understanding.

  • RC

    Thank you for sharing this. This has been weighing heavily on my mind lately. Experiences I had when I was a young girl and the way I’ve thought about it since….and ESPECIALLY about how I want my daughter to think and react to something like this. Sadly I think this type of experience is very common, and will more than likely happen to her. And I wonder will she run? will she fight? I didn’t. And to this day, I am almost 40, I still don’t run as often as I should.

  • Kathy S

    Thank you honey. Your strength and vulnerability speak for us all

  • JayaMae

    I read this for the first time yesterday while my almost 3-month-old baby slept next to me. I had to pause several times while reading just to catch my breath.

    I was 17. He was the photographer hired to take senior photos on campus at my high school. He told me I was beautiful. He told me he wanted to photograph me for his portfolio. I took his business card.

    What happened to me during that photo shoot was a secret for 6 years, until I finally, with the support of my husband and best friend, went to the authorities.

    It took me several more years before I could openly speak about what happened to me. Because I didn’t run. I was raised by one mother fucking crazy hippie feminist mother who educated me about predators.

    But I didn’t run. I had gone to the photo shoot alone, lying to my parents about where I would be. I had told the photographer I wanted more “mature” looking photographs. I had accepted a drink. I hadn’t resisted when it happened.

    And still, many years later, when I think about what happened, I think why didn’t I… or why did I… when I should be thinking why the fuck did he…

    Things like this stay with us for far too long…